Our oldest children each got a cell phone right around their 10th birthdays. They travel back and forth between their mom's house and ours, and it made sense to make sure they had a way to reach all of their parents, any time they needed to.
Our oldest daughter didn't really use her cell phone very much until she'd had it for a couple of years. Our second-oldest daughter likes to text, and started using her cell phone right away. Our oldest son had his cell phone confiscated by his Mom a few months after he got it; he quickly racked up a $300 bill with text-message spam and ringtone downloads. So, while 10 years old was about right for our now-teenage girls, it was too soon for our tween boy.
Some experts say children are ready to handle a cell phone around age 10 or 11, because they are becoming more independent and starting to do things -- like go to the library, or wait for the school bus with friends -- without an adult present.
"Increasingly, kids in sixth and seventh grade have cell phones, and your child might, depending on your community, be in the minority not to have one," Diane Debrovner, health and psychology editor of Parents magazine, tells The Houston Chronicle.
Frankly, I don't think "everyone else already has one" is a good enough reason to give your child a cell phone. But if your kid flies by himself to visit his other set of parents, or has to walk home after school or sports, or spends time alone at home until you get home from work, giving him a cell phone seems like a smart precautionary measure.
I'm not saying you need to run out and buy your tween an iPhone (though there are plenty of cool, free apps out there to keep your kids occupied for a few minutes on yours). But if you're running late to pick your kids up from school, a pre-paid GoPhone is an inexpensive way to provide peace of mind -- to you and your child.
Of course, a GoPhone wouldn't have prevented our tween from receiving spam text messages from friends of friends, and probably wouldn't have stopped him from trying to download random ring tones. But my kid isn't your kid -- parents have to take their own child's maturity level and experiences into consideration. Dory Devlin at Yahoo! Tech offers a few guidelines for trying to decide whether to let your child go mobile:
1.) How and when will they use the phones? Are the phones for emergency use only or for socializing?
2.) Should they be able to send and receive text messages? To and from whom?
3.) What is the entire monthly cost, including fees, text messaging, photos, ringtone and music downloads?
4.) Will your child pay for all or part of the plan? Will the money come out of her allowance, or is she a teenager with a summer job and a small income?
Does your child have a cell phone? How old is old enough to be responsible for one?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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