Our oldest son, now 24, got his first cell phone when he was in eighth grade. We were the first of most of our friends to break down and get him one.
Our reasons had nothing to do with advancing his social standing or because we were tired of hearing him beg for one. Honestly, we wanted him to have one so he could call us to come pick him up from sports practices, a friend’s house or a football game.
Having four children, we were always running kids here and there, and being able to communicate with him was nothing short of amazing.
Of course, cell phones began becoming more available and we parents began giving them to our children at younger ages. In fact, twice as many children have cell phones today than in 2004.
The Kaiser Family Foundation did a study in 2010 about how old children were when they got a cell phone. The findings were fascinating.
When this study was conducted, 85 percent of kids ages 14 to 17 had cell phones, 69 percent of those 11 to 14 had them, as did 31 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds.
That was nearly six years ago, so I would argue that the numbers and percentages are much greater. There are probably many more children younger than 8 who have cell phones, or at least some sort of tablet.
So how old should a child be before he or she gets a cell phone?
Like so many parenting issues, I think it’s different for every child. Parents know their children better than anybody, so listening to the “experts” on this issue (or many issues) is not advisable.
Instead, think about the child’s maturity level, as well as the purpose for the phone.
If the motivation is so children can let parents know when they need to be picked up, perhaps let them have it only when needed for that reason.
Another consideration about letting a child have a cell phone is sleep. Getting enough sleep for children (and adults) is critical to health and well-being.
Many studies say children are sleeping with their phones and texting at night when they should be sleeping.
It is probably unrealistic to think teenagers can be controlled to everyone’s liking, but certainly young children shouldn’t have their cell phones in their bedrooms at night.
Here are some other suggestions for parents with young children.
• Buy a basic phone without all of the bells and whistles. Some kids may whine and complain about not having the best cell phone like all of their friends, but this helps limit access to everything that is out there.
• Set limits. Don’t get the unlimited texting package. That way, they can’t text all of the time.
I always worry about the communication abilities of young people since so many of them type their conversations, often using crazy abbreviations, instead of speaking.
• Turn off cell phones at a certain time, or take them when it’s bed time.
• Set a good example. Don’t text while driving. Don’t be addicted to a cell phone, at least in front of the kids. Have a rule that there are to be no cell phones at the dinner table or when dining out.
• Draw up a simple contract so the expectations are known. Many of my friends insisted on having their children’s passwords so they could check the phones.
Of course, young people likely will claim that is an invasion of privacy, but counter with the argument of “who pays the bills?” And there is always the ultimatum of no cell phone at all.
Don’t forget to list consequences in the agreement and be prepared to enforce the rules. If not, their goes any parental credibility.
Lastly, I don’t think we had it nearly as bad as parents of young children today. Cell phones were still just getting popular when our children were young, and no elementary-aged child would have even thought to ask for one.
As with all things in our modern, technically-advanced world, stay vigilant.
And for goodness sake, don’t let children play outside with their cell phones or tablets. Everybody needs to unplug and have quality down time with no screen.
Adlen Robinson is author of “Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.