Cellphones age-by-age

Tots (age 0 to 7)

Children at this age should always be under adult supervision – even, or especially at, designated playing areas. That adult must always have a phone which can be used during an emergency – why would a child this young need their own? 

There are, however, phones that have been designed specifically for this age group.  In the UK, the very popular Firefly Mobile has simplified controls – an on/off switch, two buttons with a male and female figure on (one calls mom, the other calls dad) and all calls from unrecognised numbers are blocked. Just remember, you can’t expect such a young child to never lose or break their phone – just like any other ‘toy’, and it can never replace an adult’s watchful eye.

Tweens (age 8 to 12)

Nearly 40% of American children in this age group have cellphones. At this age it becomes important to be able to stay in contact, but you need to consider some strict guidelines for your child’s safety:
  • Limit what the phone can actually do. For instance, block all internet access and set parameters with regards to which numbers the phone can dial and receive calls from.
  • You can also give the phone to your child only when they really need it – such as on a group trip to the mall or on a school outing if the school allows.
  • Buy your child a very limited amount of airtime each month, and if you allow them to SMS their friends, be sure to take the phone away at bedtime.
Teens (age 12 to 19)

Of all age groups, the greatest need (and danger) with regards to cellphones, lies with teens. Most of us allow our older children to have more freedom with what their phone can do and this usually includes internet access, MMS and a higher call time limit. 

All children are different and can be given different levels of responsibility, depending on their maturity (and your bank balance).  However, you do need to be aware of the dangers at this age level, such as: sexting (sending and receiving nude pictures of classmates is one example), unsupervised internet access, and cyberbullying.

One final thought:  Even although they are probably more tech savvy than we ever will be, does this mean they should be given a phone that can run a small country?  I’ve often seen moms typing out an SMS for ages on their phones that don’t even have a colour screen, while their teen sitting right beside them has their fingers sliding and tapping at an incredible pace on their new i-phone. 
The irony? Both of them have the exact cell phone that they really want – and can handle!

Read more about children and cellphones.

At what age do you think a child should have their own phone?
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