When Should Kids Get a Cell Phone
I remember my first “mobile phone.” No, it wasn’t my voice yelling across the fence from my neighbor’s yard, but it wasn’t much more sophisticated than that. In high school my dad put what was still called a car phone on the floor behind the driver’s seat. Contained in a black bag, the car phone was actually bigger than the sleek new wireless phones in my home. Because I lived in a rural part of the country and often drove at night for activities and lessons, the phone was my connection to the world in the event of an emergency. In order to use my car phone, I had to plug it into my car’s cigarette lighter and then dial zero. At some point a credit card number was involved, but that’s the extent of what I remember other than I was happy for that phone in a bag one night when my rear wheel drive convertible slid off the road at the top of a mountain on a patch of black ice.
The idea that I could call my house from my car as a teenager was shocking at that time, but today we are constantly connected. Even if I can’t talk to friends and loved ones while they’re at work, I know that I can email or text them, leave a message on their cell phones, and they will get back to me quickly if not instantly. My husband and I check in with each other with just a quick call once or twice a day and again on his long commute home. This constant connectivity was the most jarring change when my daughter began kindergarten a year and a half ago. For seven long hours I didn’t know what she was doing, how she was feeling. In fact, that first week I parked near the school during recess more than once to catch a glimpse of her face to read her mood.
Now that she has been in school for a year and a half, I feel more at ease not knowing her every move. She is certainly safe and well inside the four walls of her school with teachers I both trust and respect. But of course she is not always at school every time she is not with me. She has begun riding home on the bus with her friends for after school playdates, and on those days I tuck my cell phone number into her pocket as a reminder that I am just a phone call away. In the back of my mind I can’t help but wish she also had a phone she could use to call me herself.
What age is the right age for a child to have a cell phone? Is it when they begin to drive or ride with friends and they need a “car phone” like I did so many years ago? Is it when they begin to participate in after school activities that allow them to deviate from the standard home to school and back again?
It will be many, many years before my children have a cell phone with a plan similar to mine, but I anticipate getting my daughter a special cell phone that calls only 911, home, and one other number in the next couple of years, certainly by the time she leaves elementary school. After that, I plan on moving to a pay-as-you-go plan like my husband has where services stop when the money runs out. I hope that this will teach my kids responsibility while providing them with that constant connectivity that I have come to take for granted. It’s hard to believe that it all started with a clunky old phone in a black bag on the floor of my car, but cellphones have certainly become something we can’t live without.
So what do you believe is the right age for a child to have their first cell phone?