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What's the Right Age for a Cellphone?

Washington Post reporter Kim Hart writes the following in a story in the business section of The Post today:

Daniel Neal scoffs at the notion that children are too young for cellphones.
"Kids are using more advanced mobile devices than even their parents," said Neal, co-founder of a new cellphone service geared specifically toward 8- to 16-year-olds. "They're adept. They're swimming in technology, and they're comfortable using it."

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned -- after all, I joined the cellphone bandwagon just a couple of years ago when my boss demanded I get one -- but I just don't think 8-year-olds really need cellphones. Yes, kids that age are great with technology, but that's not the real issue. Eight is an age for hanging with friends, not talking for hours on the phone with them. Eight is an age for riding bikes and forgetting where you've left your backpack. Eight is an age at which parents and kids can pre-determine pick-up times.

So, why spend the money on cellphones that are likely to get lost? At what age have you given your kids cellphones? How much do they use them?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 1, 2007; 11:51 PM ET
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Just yesterday I saw a group of three kids riding bikes under age 10 I think, and one of them was talking on a cell phone. That's a bit too young to me...

Posted by: anon | April 2, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Mine are too young but when the get older (and maybe 8 is old enough), they will have cell phones. Maybe one of the basic, kid-oriented phones that come with pre-programmed numbers only; home, my office number, wife's office number, my cell, 911, etc.

Only reason, I see it, that a child needs a cell phone is so parent can reach them or they can reach a parent. Peer-to-peer calling is not needed at that age.

Posted by: Father of 2 | April 2, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: Father of 2 | April 2, 2007 9:12 AM | Report abuse

I think around 7 or 8 with the firefly phone. I see the need for them to reach parents in an emergency. Peer to peer calling doesn't need to happen before middle or high school. Even in HS, minutes would be strictly regulated.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 2, 2007 9:25 AM | Report abuse

I have a 13 year old. He's only just at the point socially where I think a phone would be useful. Until recently, we always knew where he was and what he was doing. Also, until recently, I'm not sure he'd regularly remember to charge the phone, or carry it with him - a phone isn't very useful if it's discharged at the bottom of the laundry hamper (and even less useful if I toss it in the washer).

We'll probably get him one of the cheap pay-as-you-go phones this summer. And threaten him with great bodily harm if he blows his minutes too quickly. :)

Posted by: Herdon, VA | April 2, 2007 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I prefer to supply my child with handi-wipes, so he can dig into his pocket, find 25 cents and use a payphone.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 9:30 AM | Report abuse

What I can't figure out is just where my 8-11 year old would be such that I couldn't easily get hold of him without a cell phone. Wouldn't he either be at school, a friend's house, church/place of worship, or with family? I think giving a cell phone to a fairly young child would most likely lead to a lost or damaged cell phone and an angry, frustrated parent.

And who needs one more cell phone bill anyway?

Posted by: chausti | April 2, 2007 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I thought I wouldn't get my child a cell phone either until she turned 10 and things changed. She can't use it to call socially but she has used it many times to call from soccer practice when it's been called off early because of rain, at the pool (where's she's old enough to be dropped off for an hour or two to swim) to call us when she's ready to be picked up, and even one time when her grandmother was taking her to the movies and they got lost and luckily, since grandma's cell phone was discharged, she had hers to call me on.
I see no social need for a phone at this age but it gives me great comfort when's she's walking home alone from school, waiting at the bus stop alone, etc., to know she can call me or 911 if there's a problem.

Posted by: dkaguilar | April 2, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

We decided to examine this when our oldest is in 7th or 8th grade. Right now, both our children go to before- and after-school care so there's no need for them to have a cellphone. Once our oldest reaches 7th grade, he's no longer eligible for that and on some days will be getting to and from school by himself. I think at that point, having a cellphone in his backpack would be a useful idea.

Posted by: corinne | April 2, 2007 9:40 AM | Report abuse

My daughter didn't get a cell phone until she was 16 and getting her license and a job. My son is 7, I can't imagine getting him a cell phone at such a young age. What in the world would a CHILD need a cell phone for?

Posted by: kim | April 2, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

we just got our soon to be 13 y.o. son one ... won't be too much social calling as he isn't a big 'phone talker' or even computer IM chatter ... it'll be just for the convenience of pickup/drop off coordination and, god forbid, emergencies ... instead of our having to be involved in detailed a priori planning of get-togethers, we can give him the increased independence/responsibility of making arrangements ... it'll also come in handy for an upcoming hershey park field trip .. he can have 'free roam' of the park and still be able to check in with the chaperone (my wife/his mom) ... it'll be a work in progress too .. any abuses will result in the lost priviledge ...

Posted by: dad o' 2 - 21042 | April 2, 2007 9:53 AM | Report abuse

They don't need them. Neither do adults.

Posted by: Steve | April 2, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I gave a prepaid phone to my 9 year old daughter on a very limited basis. She doesn't carry all the time. As a matter of fact, she rarely has it. She takes it on sleepovers, short bicycle rides, and just whenever she's out and away from us but may need to call.

It's a plan that is geared toward tweens. As the parent, I can limit the numbers she can call and when. So she cannot use the phone during school hours, before 8 am and after 9 pm (yes, I realize this means she can only use the phone for about 5 hours a day).

Posted by: MDmom | April 2, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

I got a cell phone when I turned 16, and got a driver's license and a car. That way my mom could reach me, and I could call for help if my car broke down or I got a flat (which did happen once in the middle of nowhere).

The upside for parents besides being able to reach their kids is that they can monitor who they are calling and who is calling them. I had a friend who was sneakily (she thought) dating an older man her parents had forbidden her from seeing. But the cell phone bill gave her away and she was grounded until we graduated high school.

Posted by: catmommy | April 2, 2007 10:01 AM | Report abuse

My stepdaughter had a cell phone when she was 12, almost 8 years ago. She was one of the first kids within her group of friends to get it. I thought she was too young at the time, but her mother had given it to her. At first, it wasn't that big of a deal, but as more friends got a phone, it was a serious disruption. It got worse when she had boyfriends with cell phones and at one point I seriously thought that it was almost a form of abuse with one guy, he called her so frequently wanting to know where she was and what she was doing, who she was with, etc. He thought that since she had a cell phone, she should answer it any time he called. Thankfully, they split.

I feel very sorry for kids today (God, do I sound like a old fart or what) because there is no expectation of privacy from your friends or your parents for that matter if you've got a cell phone. I do not think it's a good thing and I will hold out for my own children to get phones at least until they are in high school, or possibly even until they're driving.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 2, 2007 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Children need cell phones as soon as they are of an age that they find themselves in situations where there's not an adult around to chaperone or drive. In our house that was 6th grade when they started going to movies, parties and shopping without a parent. I tell them that their cell phone is for my convenience, not theirs and they are required to have it on and have it charged when they are not supervised. That said, I think it's unrealistic for parents to expect that their older teens won't be talking and text-messaging with their friends. Frankly, I enjoy not having to field calls on our land-line phone for our three teenagers--their friends just reach them on their cells.

Posted by: Fran Tewkesbury | April 2, 2007 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Fran, I understand the joy you must get not having to answer the phone a million times a day, but the flip side is: by not fielding calls for your kids, you are missing a golden opportunity to know who's talking to whom and for how long and how frequently, etc.

Posted by: Chiclet | April 2, 2007 10:10 AM | Report abuse

I really don't think its necessary for an eight year old child to have a cell phone. Most schools, churches, gymnasiums, etc. have land lines and if there's an emergency, I'm sure the adult in charge will call the child's parent, or allow the child to call. Although children are growing up in the "computer age" sometimes we give them too much, too soon. Case and point, a parent called me several weeks ago to find out if I had a son or daughter who knew her child. I asked my eleven year old son if he knew the child and it was one of his classmates. As it turned out, the child's phone bill had a $43.00 call to my number, but her son said he didn't recognize the phone number. I told the mother that I couldn't really sympathize with her because my son didn't have a cell phone and wouldn't be getting one until he had a JOB to pay for it! My son informed me the following day that his classmate said his phone bill was a whopping $1,400.00, which is why his mother was so upset. We teach children responsibility when they WORK and PAY their own bills. When you start giving children cell phones, lap tops, etc. they don't have anything to look forward to when they reach middle/high school.

Posted by: Melinda | April 2, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

My 5th grader comes home alone after school. She calls me on her cell to let me know she's home - she enters by the code on the garage door opener. If the power is out, she can't get in, so she calls me from wherever she is. And I love it when she's on a field trip - half the time they get back earlier/later than expected, and she'll call for us to pick her up. Like the previous poster said, more for my convenience than hers.

Posted by: pamsdds | April 2, 2007 10:18 AM | Report abuse

We got our daughter a cell phone when she was in 7th grade and started to walk home alone some days, because if she got lost or was being harassed by a stranger we wanted her to have it for safety reasons. Its also useful at that age to have when she was at a school dance and ready to be picked up (although for an evening event she could have borrowed ours.) Now at age 15 its definitely useful as she goes out with friends during the day and can call us to be picked up, that kind of thing. I think we'll wait until the same age for our son, who is now 10 and has no need for one yet.

Posted by: Debbie Stein | April 2, 2007 10:21 AM | Report abuse

I should add that since she keeps it in her backpack except when she's actually using it, its never gotten lost. And since she has to keep it off during the school day for school rules, its usually charged.

Posted by: Debbie Stein | April 2, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

We just got a 7-11 pay-as-you-go phone for our 13 year-old daughter. We send text messages back and forth to coordinate changes in plans and pick-up times. She hasn't gotten into social calls and friend-texting yet. Sure, we don't NEED it, and the chances of needing for an emergency situation are slim, but thinking back to when I was 13, I remember a lot of waiting. Waiting to be picked up, waiting for my parents to call me back, getting in trouble because I was waiting in the wrong place, etc...

Posted by: CJ | April 2, 2007 10:33 AM | Report abuse

I agree with DKAguilar and Steve. I don't have a cell. If I am going to be late picking up the kids, I call BEFORE I leave my office, not while I am walking to the car and certainly NOT while I am driving.

Posted by: LM in WI | April 2, 2007 10:39 AM | Report abuse

I think kids should get cell phones when they're old enough to pay for the service and the replacement phone if it's lost or stolen or dropped in a puddle!

I didn't get my first one until I was 29 (4 years ago) and the only reason I got it was because my Long Island commute had increased and I wanted to make sure I could call AAA if needed. Now since I moved down here, it's my primary phone, but I rarely use it as I prefer to e-mail on a PC. And I recently upgraded my phone, but only because the old one needed to be charged every night when I got home from work. I did not change my plan -- it's still $29.99 a month (well, that's $37 and change with the taxes and related "fees").

Posted by: Columbia, MD | April 2, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Here in TriChester (Tribeca: The new Westchester) we try to make sure both moms pushing their $800 strollers and the child have matching phones and the child knows how to TM.

At PS 234 part of the reading and writing classes for third graders is BlackBerry techniques. The school, located in one of the wealthiest zip codes on earth, wants parents to donate old BlackBerry's so no child is left behind other entitled children. It is never too soon to begin to use those thumbs.

Posted by: NYC | April 2, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Didn't get one until 16 and driving, and then I was required to have it in the car whenever I drove in case I got into trouble. Since most of where I drove was to school and back, on Fridays I'd bring it in and charge it (which usually didn't take long as it was off about 80% of the time).

Mostly it lived in the glove box, so there wasn't an issue of losing it (then again, I also went to school when cell phones/beepers were not allowed to be carried into school, on or off, so that probably made a difference as well).

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 10:43 AM | Report abuse

There are two separate issues: (1) at what age does it make sense for a child to have a cell phone to make things easier for the family, and (2) at what age does a child desire a cell phone for their personal use.

With respect to (1): Every family has a different schedule, and in some of those schedules it makes perfect sense for the child to have a cell phone. In our case, we are trying to determine if our 11-year old should get a cell phone over the summer primarily to support the at-the-neighborhood-swimming-pool use. For kids walking to/from school and two employed parents, there are clearly other examples where cell phones for the kids make sense.

With respect to (2): Technology keeps changing the answer -- my wife's cell phone is also a camera and a MP3 player -- my 11 and 9 year-olds each have a cheap digital camera and cheap MP3 player -- at what age will we just consolidate? Hard to say, but it's not that far off...

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Our children have been getting a cellphone when they enter high school. They have all gone to a K-8 grade school and there has proven to be very little need for it any younger. There is always the school office phone to use or they are with a friend. Under the age of 13, they aren't just randomly leaving the school property - because they aren't allowed. When they enter high school and start with activities after school that sometimes don't start until after 4-5 pm, or they would want to drive off with a friend to go get pizza and I wouldn't want them to have to go find a pay phone by themselves to let us know where they are - that seems to be the right time for our family. Also, at 14 they have waited to get it and accept and follow the rules very well. Our two oldest have yet to lose a phone, or misuse a phone. We share 800 miutes between 4 users. My middle daughter will get hers this summer when high school soccer tryouts start - I think she is ready. Besides, we have a firm rule in the house about the phone - misuse it and lose it!

Posted by: carol | April 2, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The right age is whenever a child starts to get a little bit of freedom and independence - but still needs to keep in touch with parents for whatever reason. Maybe they're walking home from school by themselves; attending events and they'll need a ride; riding their bikes with friends to the pool, etc. I feel a lot better if my son (who is 12) rides his bike into town and then can call me to say he made it safely and he'll be home in an hour.

The older teenagers I know don't use a cellphone to communicate with each other, anyway. Maybe an occasional text message but most communicating is through IM or "MyFace."

Posted by: VA mom | April 2, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Best to introduce kids to cell phones at teething age. Give babes rattles and chewing rings that resemble the devices that they will be fondling, cuddling, and cooing into 24/7 as adults. Abolish the three R*s in school and score proficienty based on cell phone savvy and detexterity. Dump pencil and paper. Give achievement awards to kids who can keep up the greatest number of simultaneous phone calls and babble non-stop from dawn to dusk. Re-write Driver Education to emphasize keeping track of caller messages and emails while driving in traffic. Best to train kids to excell at phone networking, since the market wants to offshore other jobs or import hungry immigrants to do just about every other job. What good is a diploma if you have no one to phone to talk about it?

Posted by: JKoch | April 2, 2007 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I bought my daughter a cell phone when she was 8 and was riding the bus by herself for the first time. She was used to riding with her sister, but now sis had moved on up to middle school. Unfortunately, I didn't buy it before she missed her stop on the way home. She got over it, but I decided to get her one. In the year and a half that she has had it, she has made very few calls from it. My older daughter was 11 when she got hers, and it has been helpful. The minimal extra cost on the phone bill has been worth it for the peace of mind--at least the peace of mind I WOULD have if the kid could ever remember to bring them with them, charge them, and remember to bring them back home!

Posted by: lol | April 2, 2007 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I love the comments about the need for 8 year olds to get in touch with parents in the event of an emergency. The way some people talk, you'd wonder how we as a species ever survived before cell phones. 8 year olds were probably constantly falling off bridges because they couldn't call their parents.

Anyway, my kids can have a cell phone when they can afford it. I survived childhood without one and I think they can, too.

Posted by: Ryan | April 2, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

I didn't get a cell phone until I was 18. A few times in high school it would have been nice, but having to wait for a ride teaches patience. Sometimes now I wish I didn't have to have a cellphone to talk to people, despite their incredible convenience in college.

Nobody less than high school should get a cellphone. In my experience, not much good comes from early personal technology.

(Side note: I am certainly among the more technology-savvy people my age.)

Posted by: Robbie | April 2, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

How timely! This morning on my metro commute their were a group of school kids - I'd say middle school age...from out of town...One found an add in the free metro newspaper for basically a sex chat line. His friends loudly urged him to call it. Which he did. I'd really hate to be the parents and the kid when the cell phone bill arrives next month.

Posted by: washington dc | April 2, 2007 11:34 AM | Report abuse

"Anyway, my kids can have a cell phone when they can afford it. I survived childhood without one and I think they can, too."

I agree -- and same with car seats [I didn't use them as a kid] and same with bike helments [didn't use those either]. Come to think of it, let's get rid of some of the new medicines too -- lot's of kids survived the chicken pox, why should kids these days get a vaccine?

Why in the world should we try to improve on any personnel safety at all?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

I had to limit how much time my 12yo daughter could be on the land line at home talking to her friends, heaven help us if she had a cell phone. When children are old enought to decide where and when they will go places on their own, they are old enough to have their own cell phone. Otherwise, just let them borrow yours if need be. My son got his when he started commuting to and from school on the METRO without me, not before then.

Posted by: Washington DC | April 2, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

We purchased cell phones for our 2 boys ages 8 and 11 for Christmas. For the 8 year old we purchased a Firefly (it works on the Cingular network). Adults enter the phone numbers into the phone book (which is password protected) and then purchase minutes over the 'net.

For the 11 year old we purchased a Wherifone. Can store more phone numbers and has a built in GPS where the phone can be tracked over the 'net. Not that I've ever used, but a nice feature to have.

So far, neither child has abused their phone and the phone for the 8 year old has been a god send in keeping track of him as he bounces from friend to friend.

Posted by: Dad of 2 | April 2, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

We bought DD one for Christmas the year she turned 12. She's split custody, so we only see her one week of every two, and it's helpful to coordinate schedules, make sure she's where she should be after school, etc. It's also great when we go to the mall, grocery store, etc - she has her phone, she's allowed to go look at whatever she wants, and just has to answer when we call her to tell her we're ready for her to come back to us. She's been through four handsets in the ensuing year and a half - first one was a hand me down that she broke the screen on, one was stolen (not her fault, was locked in a teacher's desk after school while they were at a function and someone stole the teacher's keys and broke in), one she dropped while mowing hte lawn and chopped up (boy, do they come in small pieces!).

It's been really instructional for us to see her phone bills. We know who she's calling, when, for how long, we know when the pattern changes, and can check her stories when she says she's doing one thing and is doing something else (like saying she's doing homework, etc.). We don't get that kind of detail on the house phone, so we'd miss out on it otherwise. She has a limited amount of minutes a month, and has only gone over once or twice by a tiny amount, and knows precisely when the 'nights and weekends' time starts. It's worked out great for us.

Posted by: Rebecca in AR | April 2, 2007 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Kids don't talk to each other on their cell phones; they text message.

Whatever you do, pay the extra for unlimited text messages. It's a great way to communicate with your kid without interrupting them. They may not answer your call, but they'll always check and read their text messages.

Posted by: TBG | April 2, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

We got our 13 year old son one when he went to middle school. We found it necessary that he have one since he was able to go to the pool by himself that summer, and I would always be able to get a hold of him or he could call us if there was a problem. I do not feel and 8 year old is responsible enough for one, unless it is the MIGO that can only call certain people!

Posted by: LD | April 2, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

How the hell was I able to grow to be an adult without a cell phone? Do kids today need them? Heck no. Do they want them? Heck yes. Needs do not equal wants.

Posted by: Phillyfilly | April 2, 2007 12:10 PM | Report abuse

I think that it's like contacts -- it's when they're ready to handle the responsibility. My son is the careless type -- loses it, flips it, washes it. My young daughter can keep track of one but she can't keep from phoning everyone whose number she can remember -- 6 or 8 times in an hour.

I gave in at high school for my son when his schedule became crazy. That phone is a necessity. I just wish he would take better care of it.

My daughter sometimes wanders at sports tournaments and it is a way we can keep track of her. I also like it when she's out playing with her friends and I don't have to track her down. She has one of those phones with just the 4 numbers. It came in handy recently when soccer practice got called early because of unexpected rain.

Posted by: soccermom | April 2, 2007 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Um, there's a big difference between cell phones and car seats. One improves one's personal safety, while the other improves the perception of one's safety.

Anyway, 11:36 AM (since you couldn't possibly post a name), you really shouldn't try comparing apples to oranges when they have nothing to do with each other.

Posted by: Ryan | April 2, 2007 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I gave my son a cell phone when he started a middle school magnet program, across town, that depends on public transportation (which is not reliable). After the bus broke down the 2nd time in a week, he got a phone so he could call me.

When his sister started middle school, she was at a small private school, with me driving her to and from school every day. No cell phone. She starts the magnet program this fall and will get a phone the week school starts.

Posted by: trueblue texasn | April 2, 2007 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Mines were 17 & 16. AND...they are under
my plan by which they had to sign a contract that I created with such things as: NO BOYS(of course), no gabbing, limit on their monthly minutes, weekly monitoring..yada, yada. We understood early that we didn't mind them having the tool and it is a tool, but at any given time it is always cheaper to cut it off and
pay for ours only. They got the point and use wise stewardship over the phone. AND yes pay phones still work!

Posted by: Sonel | April 2, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

My kids got them in high school. They have gotten cheaper over the years and that expands their availability. I would not be at all surprised if many middle school children have them these days.

I think it depends on your kid. I liked it because I had one ultra-social son and it gave me a way to find him quickly. As a parent I like it because I can call them at odd moments and see how they are. My favorite call site is waiting for the Red line at Fort Totten.

Someone else I know got his 9 year old daughter one because he was separated and wanted to be able to contact her without going through his soon-to-be ex-wife. He was also concerned that the daughter be able to contact him if emergencies arose.

I've never heard of this phone where the parents can pick the numbers the child can dial, but I think that sounds good for a first cell phone. Any child worth their number would grow unhappy with that fairly quickly, but for a starter phone it sounds good.

Between text messages and minutes we found that we bumped up to about 1,000 minutes a month pretty quickly. I share a line with one child and it's not unreasonable.

I'd also add that cell phones have very short lives in the hands of children/teens. In addition to the service charges you have to expect that you'll be replacing the device itself every year or so. Once kids get older it's good to push the responsibility for replacing the phone off on them because they will take better care of them if they have to pay.

Posted by: RoseG | April 2, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

GPS tracked cellphone? I sure would've loved that as a teenager: stash it at school, the library or some other place you're supposed to keep your phone turned off; then have plausible deniability to do what you want where you want it the rest of the day ...

I suggest parents stick to calling their teen's friend's parents. Since when does you kid's coach not call you when training is cancelled? Maybe these people need to relearn to do their jobs, should be a lot easier with a cellphone than it was when I was a kid ...

Posted by: Beltsville, MD | April 2, 2007 12:50 PM | Report abuse

My 9 year old daughter came home from school last week with a Scholastic Book Order Form. In it was an offer for a cell phone! Normally when we get these Book orders, we can come to a reasonable solution as to what to order. However, my daughter was adament about getting the cell phone and I refused as usual. It blew up into a terrible argument. Whether or not to get your 9 year old child is a personal family decision. However, it should NEVER be advertised in a school environment to a 9 year old child! I am outraged at Scholastic for allowing this in the book club. It is bad enough that they include computer games and such, but a cell phone?? Because the cell-phone pitch came from school, my daughter thought she had leverage with me to get it and it was a lot harder for her to hear the word NO yet again.

Posted by: Lorie | April 2, 2007 12:53 PM | Report abuse

"I prefer to supply my child with handi-wipes, so he can dig into his pocket, find 25 cents and use a payphone."

okay, so I get that this is supposed to be a smart-aleck one-liner, but it's just factually incorrect. Pay phone calls haven't been 25 cents for at least the past 10 years. Last time I used one (it's been a year or two, since I have a cell phone) it was 50 cents. The reason calls are so expensive: they've got to recoup costs because so few people use pay phones anymore. The other side effect of this trend: there are fewer working payphones in existence. These days it's not always easy to find a payphone if you're stranded somewhere.

all that said, I think the start of high school is a good age for letting kids have pay-as-you-go phones. That's the age where they'll first have friends who can drive them places, and they're much less likely to be under adult supervision.

It's also important to keep in mind that a lot of schools ban cell phone use and that there's really no need for kids to use cell phones at the adult supervised play dates, soccer practices, etc, where they spend the majority of their non-school time.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

If my husband and I could survive through our childhood just fine without having cellphones, I'm pretty sure that our kids will. They can have a cellphone once they can help pay for the bill. Giving the child a cellphone without teaching them the responsibilities associated with it opens the opportunity for abuse of priviledges and misses the chance to learn a good life lesson.

Posted by: kay | April 2, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Let's be real. A cell phone is a device not an ideology. Devices are just tools to make our lives easier. To me the issues are cost and responsibility. The needs have to justify the costs and the kid has to be ready to handle the responsibility.

Posted by: soccermom | April 2, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Our kids got cell phones when they decided they wanted them enough to pay for them. Our son 2 years ago at age 24, one daughter 6 years ago at 16, 1 last year at 18. My husband & I just got one phone to share last year because our son added us to his plan.

Posted by: in virginia | April 2, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

If my husband and I could survive through our childhood just fine without having cellphones, I'm pretty sure that our kids will.

Replace the word "cellphones" with 'cable tv', 'central air conditioning', 'Blockbuster', 'computer', 'internet' or other things you can give them that you didn't have. Sure, they are not all necessary and the kids will survive. Does that mean you never give them anything you didn't have?

I haven't read all the posts, so I may be repeating, but pay phones are not available the way they were when I was a kid. My daughter's middle school regularly has after school activities that do not end until after the school office personnel go home for the day. The office is locked and there is no longer a pay phone in the lobby for the kids to use. It is not fair to expect the adults in charge of the activities to lend their own cell phones to all the kids. No one minds in an emergency, but not on a regular basis. Not everyone has unlimited minutes on their plan.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 1:19 PM | Report abuse

So the little buggers can grow up and not watch where they drive or walk and expect the rest of us to get out of their way and yammer and psycho babble just like mommy and daddy

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 1:26 PM | Report abuse

As an adult without a cell phone I also confirm pay phones do still work, although usually only available in places children shouldn't be by themselves such as airports and bus stations. Everywhere else there is usually a land line available for free when asking politely. This leaves the possibility of getting stranded on the interstate, but for a minimum of $10+/month for a prepaid I'll take my chances. You might not feel the same way where your 16 year old daughter is concerned.

Posted by: Ryan | April 2, 2007 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Clearly the right age is at least 45. I am 44 now, and though I have one, I don't ever use it. I'm sure if I have a flat tire in the middle of the desert I will be glad I have it, but other than that, it just seems to be a solution in search of a problem.

Posted by: Tom | April 2, 2007 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I have a 7 year old and I can barely get his notebook in the bookbag everyday. To me, it is a matter of principle. You don't incur bills until you have a job to pay the bill.

Posted by: Claudia | April 2, 2007 1:45 PM | Report abuse

JKoch: You rock dude or dudette. Tell it like it the earth melts and species die lets angst over cell phones for the Gen E(entitled).

Take them to the vet and get a chip put in'em if you worry where they are.

Thank you

Posted by: NYC | April 2, 2007 1:49 PM | Report abuse

"I prefer to supply my child with handi-wipes, so he can dig into his pocket, find 25 cents and use a payphone."

Costs 35 cents now and you're lucky to find a working payphone when you need one.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 1:51 PM | Report abuse

" If I am going to be late picking up the kids, I call BEFORE I leave my office, not while I am walking to the car and certainly NOT while I am driving. "

And bad traffic has NEVER caused you to be late - even when you left the office in plenty of time, right? Of course it had. For this reason alone, a cell phone is nice.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

"The office is locked and there is no longer a pay phone in the lobby for the kids to use. It is not fair to expect the adults in charge of the activities to lend their own cell phones to all the kids."

This, more than the idea of kids having cell phones itself, is what I take issue with. The expectation of adults, and soon at this rate also kids, having cellphones has grown to the point where individuals temporarily in charge are abdicating their responsibilities, most likely due to the school trying to save money.

The coach:
- should have access to a landline (key to the office?). Cellphones are not 99.9% reliable, especially matters when sports and the potential for injury is involved.
- there needs to be a way to deal with children who's parents can't afford cellphones, let alone parents who can't immediately rush over and pick their kids up when it say, rains

Frankly, I wouldn't leave my kids any place that expects the kids to make alternative arrangements when the organizer's plans fall through; whether they had a cell phone or not.

Posted by: Beltsville, MD | April 2, 2007 1:56 PM | Report abuse

At what age to give a cell phone to a child is really a very personal family decision. Some parents are not comfortable not being able to reach their child if necessary. Other parents are very comfortable when they children are away from them.

When did my children (currently 7th and 9th graders) get a cell phone? When the world as we knew it fell apart: 9/11 and the Washington area snipers! I am very comfortable when my children are out of my sight and away, but I am not comfortable with the how quickly things can go awry.

My daughter had to call once when a school bus driver loss her mind and dropped the kids of where she chose to drop them off, which was not the designated bus stops. It was already way after the time the kids should have been home.

Has anyone tried finding a pay phone recently? I finally broke down and got a cell phone seven years ago when I couldn't find a ??@# pay phone and I was driving around DC hopelessly lost.

Thinking back to how I grew up without a phone. I wish I did have one as a teenager when an obsessed ex-boyfriend took to stalking me for a year. I grew up in NYC and took the subway from Brooklyn to high school in Manhattan and there were plenty of days that I was fearful.

I don't panic easily, (heck I'm about to let my teenage daughter go half way around the world for a summer youth program) but during one PTA meeting I learned about a website in which you can find out where registered sex offenders are living in your area. There were a lot in my small contained community. Something I never thought about and I don't worry about, but I like knowing that when my kids are out and about, a cell phone won't protect them, but may come in very handy one day.

Gone are the days when all the children played outdoors while the adults on the block talked and laughed and kept an eye on the kids. We now live in a world of Amber alerts. I respect the parents who say my kids don't need a cell phone and I respect the parents who say my kids do need a cell phone.

The most important thing as a parent is to determine your comfort level, and make your decision regarding your children with your comfort level in mind. There is no right or wrong age for a child to have a cell phone. My children don't use their phones often to call their friends. Between the three of us, we don't go over our minutes and we have 500 minutes per month. They pay for their downloads from their allowance, so they know how to restrain themselves. I know who they're talking to from looking at the phone bill. The bottom line: the whole family is at ease.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

"The coach:
- should have access to a landline (key to the office?). Cellphones are not 99.9% reliable, especially matters when sports and the potential for injury is involved."

Just how does this make sense? A land-line is somehow superior to a cell phone? They're both devices. One has wires. And when land-lines were new didn't people have the same wacko issues with phones? TV's? Computers?

And anyway. There are NO landlines why my DD plays soccer. No electricity, no wires, etc. There is one land-line where she plays softball. It's on the other side of the park -- more than a 1/4 mile away. And sometimes the center is locked.

Why should the burden be placed on the coach or other parent when a simple solution exists? The kids with the cell phones are a little better prepared. You know, like scouts.

It's not the people with the cell phones who are being wacko here.

Posted by: soccermom | April 2, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

it seems as if people object because they think it is equal to privilege. But I think most parents just want their kids to be safe. If your worried about the bill then use a prepaid. If your worried about excessive chatting, then use one with limited number of programmable phone numbers. Other then the school objecting to phones, I can't imagine a firefly phone or a prepaid phone is much of a luxury. How many kids enjoy calling their parents for no reason? It is just a matter of safety for some parents.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 2, 2007 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Soccer Mom, I actually kind of disagree with you when you say "A cell phone is a device not an ideology". I think it does come down to convenience for some (or maybe many) but for the holdouts, which will probably include me when my kids start bugging me about it, it's about the expectation of privacy and how I don't believe that a child needs to be watched and reachable every single second of the day. I think a tremendous amount of growing up is in the independence that happens when a kid is FREE of that kind of electronic leash.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 2, 2007 2:36 PM | Report abuse

***"The office is locked and there is no longer a pay phone in the lobby for the kids to use. It is not fair to expect the adults in charge of the activities to lend their own cell phones to all the kids."

The coach:
- should have access to a landline (key to the office?). Cellphones are not 99.9% reliable, especially matters when sports and the potential for injury is involved.***

Not all activities are led by school personnel, so a key to the office is out of the question. Organizations such as girl and boy scouts and clubs such as drama or chess can be run by volunteers. They are not school-related, just held in the facilities.

As far as pick-ups for activities cancelled by rain, I would think that whoever dropped the children off would be aware of the forecast and would stick around if there was a possibility of cancellation if the child did not have a way to call.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

I don't think cellphones are needed at all.

I think they can become useful and are certainly advisable to have by the time the person is going to be out on their own regularly and needing to learn how to check in and be responsible for their own curfews.

Before that, it's more a case of convenience for everyone.

What I do NOT understand is parents who let their kids dictate their phone bills. Buy a pre-paid phone. Pay only for calls necessary to talk to family and check-ins. Everything else can go through the landline and they can learn proper sharing phone etiquette.

And I think parents should review texts and check on numbers their kids might be dialing other than family- as well as what TIMES they are calling. This isn't a way to spy on the kids, it's a way to keep in contact with them and let them know what's appropriate.

As with everything, unless the child is paying for their own usage, the privilege is at the mercy of the bill payer.

Posted by: Liz D | April 2, 2007 2:42 PM | Report abuse

"I agree -- and same with car seats [I didn't use them as a kid] and same with bike helments [didn't use those either]. Come to think of it, let's get rid of some of the new medicines too -- lot's of kids survived the chicken pox, why should kids these days get a vaccine?

Why in the world should we try to improve on any personnel safety at all?"

A cellphone is hardly necessary for a child's health and personal safety, even in this time and age. Sure, it is a convenience afforded to us because of the lifestyles we have become accustomed to, but giving a child a cellphone with the excuse that it is necessary for them to live is really just that: an excuse.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Same as when they got laptop computers: when they entered high school. That's when their schedules/activities got to the point that it was impossible to pre-plan.

I got a family plan and added a line for each child. I added text messaging for their phones. If they go over their limits, they pay the difference.

Reading some of the comments above is almost funny. Let's consider a few cases:

- I run a youth (girls') softball program - 35 teams; 500 girls from 6 - 17. We're at a park with 12 fields for baseball/softball. There are no landline phones, period. Sometimes thunderstorms come up unexpectedly, and games/practices are stopped. You'd think that parents know that in this area thunderstorms are a possibility any time in the spring and summer and would watch, but they don't. When the weather closes in, watch all the kids whose parents aren't there get huddled in the vans belonging to a few coaches, who get to stay there passing their own cellphones around to all the girls. Granted, not every player needs a phone, but it helps to have several per team.

- Now extend this to an injury. Little Janie slides into second base, only she was too close when she left her feet and now her ankle is broken. Mom's not there; Janie doesn't have a phone; Dad can't be reached because you don't really HAVE to have a cell phone. Fun situation.

- Similarly with school practices. Middle DD is on the softball team. They practice 2:30 - 5:30 when there's no game. Of course, if weather closes in, or if the coach has to leave early for a personal emergency, then practice doesn't end at 5:30 - and you know the situation.

- When your kids are driving - we sent oldest DD (17, almost 18) to pick up her younger brother from his school's football game (they go to different schools). She's not familiar with that part of town, she makes a wrong turn and the next thing you know she's lost in one of the worst parts of Baltimore. Not the kind of place you want to be looking for a pay phone.

The bottom line is that the phones can be used as toys, yes, but they're also safety items. The kids don't HAVE to have them, but DW and I considered it a good investment to get them for them when they started being more active socially.

(And yes, I do look at the bills and find out to whom they're talking and texting. It's really good to know what's going on.)

Posted by: Army Brat | April 2, 2007 3:19 PM | Report abuse

New blog topic for another day - will you buy your child their own car and if so, at what age?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | April 2, 2007 4:40 PM | Report abuse

"Anyway, my kids can have a cell phone when they can afford it. I survived childhood without one and I think they can, too."

I agree -- and same with car seats [I didn't use them as a kid] and same with bike helments [didn't use those either]. Come to think of it, let's get rid of some of the new medicines too -- lot's of kids survived the chicken pox, why should kids these days get a vaccine?

Why in the world should we try to improve on any personnel safety at all?"

Get over yourself!! For one, car seats are law. And in some area helmets are too. Personal safety? Cut the damn cord! How many kids get hurt or die because they don't have a cell phone? I survived and I walked to and from school. Give me a break.

Posted by: I feel for the future. | April 2, 2007 4:51 PM | Report abuse

I'm really surprised at the number of people here who think that kids don't need a cell phone and can just use a land line at their school to call an adult in case of emergency --- anyone remember Columbine etc?

It's extremely rare, but it CAN happen, and god-forbid, I would want my child to be able to call for help.

Posted by: StudentMom | April 2, 2007 5:03 PM | Report abuse

For such an important area of life, this column (and subsequent blog) usually seems so vapid to me. How disappointing.

Posted by: scout | April 2, 2007 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I was struck by the motivations in the article of the parents buying cell phones for their kids - time and time again they cited things like child predators and terrorist attacks.

Fear Sells.

Posted by: Robert in Austin | April 2, 2007 9:03 PM | Report abuse

"A cellphone is hardly necessary for a child's health and personal safety, even in this time and age. Sure, it is a convenience afforded to us because of the lifestyles we have become accustomed to, but giving a child a cellphone with the excuse that it is necessary for them to live is really just that: an excuse."

Is it necessary? No. Is it useful? Yes.

There are numerous safety items that are not 'necessary' -- humanity has survived without them for a long time. But just because it is not necessary doesn't mean it is not useful.

Numerous folks here have posted examples of how cell phones for their children have been a useful tool that enables them to more safely life their active lifestyles. For whatever reasons, there are those who luddites with the attitude 'if I didn't need them my kids don't need them' -- which makes no sense to me.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2007 11:33 AM | Report abuse

FWIW - This will be OBE within 3-5 years. By that time, the cell phone will be the camera, music delivery mechanism, email interface, credit payment mechanism, etc. -- as well as a communications device.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 3, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Family Plan really makes sense. Besides, now that my 12 y.o. has a phone it is usually charged and turned on. Unlike the device that sits in DW's purse, usually so buried she cant hear the ringer - that is when it has a charge. DS's phone has been very helpful, convenient, good value etc. Really helped when we were on vacation at the theme parks.

Posted by: Fo3 | April 3, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

Well, I don't have a cell phone, so I'm hardly the person to think about how soon I am going to be getting my child one of her own. But I can tell you one thing for sure. By the time she gets a cell phone, she will know better than to use it to make prank calls from a classmate's birthday party.

I agree that cell phones are convenient. I have not yet found that I needed one, although there have been a handful of times when it would have been nice to have one. But many--most even--of the situations that people have suggested here could have happened back when there weren't even cordless phones. So I happily exist without a cell phone, with no plans to get one for myself or my children. I suspect they will feel the need for one long before I feel the need for them to have one.

Posted by: single mother by choice | April 3, 2007 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Just want to point out one more area where a young child should be able to have a cell phone - divorced parents. My boyfriend's calls to his son out of state are not picked up or not returned half the time due to his ex-wife keeping their son with a babysitter a lot of the time. It would be SO much easier if he was able to get in touch with him on his son's schedule, and not on his ex-wife's.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 5, 2007 9:09 AM | Report abuse

We finally broek down and got my daughter a phone when she was 13 - turns out to be a blessing for coordinating pick ups with all her after school activities, sports, etc. But I am seeing a steady increase in chatting with friends eating into her minutes, which we are discussing!

Posted by: Luigi | April 5, 2007 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Actually, the cell phone is the best parental monitoring device I know of. I check my daughter's (15) phone regularly. Unlike the land line, the cell phone lets me see every number that she has called, and every call that she has received. I know who she is talking too, who she is not talking too, and who she is texting (and what they are saying).

Also, she calls me every day to tell me that she and the two younger ones are on the bus - they feed into the bus from three different schools. It is not only a comfort, it would potentially cut off valuable minutes if one of the children does not make the bus.

Posted by: Karen | April 5, 2007 11:26 AM | Report abuse

If I read this correctly, the question is not whether a child should have a cell phone, but rather at what age is it appropriate to give the child a cell phone.

Most of the situations discussed so far involve children who I think are old enought to have a cell phone. If they are old enought to drive, they are old enough for a phone, etc. We gave my son a phone when he was 15. I still pay for that phone (he is a freshman in college) and it certainly comes in handy when I want to talk to him. But did he need it when he was 8, no. When he took the train to his grandparents house by himself when he was 14 ( I dropped him off at Union Station) I gave him my cell phone to use for that period of time. (He promptly lost it.) Now if he goes over his alloted minutes he pays for the extra. If he loses the phone, he will have to buy another one or go without. Essentially, give a child a cell phone when you feel they are responsible enough to have one and keep track of it, etc.

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 5, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Why would you deny children a cell phone until they can pay the bills? When you have children, or take on other dependents, you're responsible for their care - that's the whole point.

A child isn't expected to pay for his own food, or schooling, or medical care. No 10-year-old pays rent. And it's not just a question of necessity - if you love your child, you'll provide them with more than what the Geneva Conventions require for prisoners.

That's where the fine line between need and want comes in. In my case, it's 10 - because that's the age when my daughter started volunteering at a local museum, and sometimes the hours weren't exactly as planned. It would be terribly irresponsible of me to assume that someone else would provide her with a phone.

I want her to have the freedom to go out on her own, and I also want her to learn to anticipate and take care of her own needs....which means carrying a cell phone, just like it means carrying your own kleenex. But for her, "taking care of" means using responsibly, not paying for it out of her own pocket.

This will all change, of course. But I want my child to have advantages I didn't - don't all parents?

Posted by: Indianapolis | April 5, 2007 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I am divorced and my son spends every other weekend at his father's house. I bought my son a cellphone when he was 8 yrs. old because I found out his dad would leave him home alone at night. His dad is too cheap and/or irresponsible to maintain a house phone. He only has a cellphone and of course took that with him when he left -- leaving my son, who shouldn't have been left alone at that age with no means of calling for help if needed. He only had possession of the phone when he went to his dad's.

Posted by: Charlita | April 6, 2007 7:07 AM | Report abuse

Whenever they can afford to pay for it themselves. I just here to provide food, shelter, and (cheap) clothing.

Posted by: bkp | April 6, 2007 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I just had an argument with a friend. Yes, 8 is probably young--though there are extenuating circumstances, such as divorce or other times when the kid might be out in unexpected places--but I think by the time the kid is 13, unless the kid is a complete couch potato, a cell phone is a good safety device. As far as people pining for the good old days when we used to let kids roam all over by themselves, don't forget that just before cell phones, we just had kids huddle at home, afraid to unlock the door. Cell phones allow kids to be both more free and more attached.

Posted by: ahh13 | April 9, 2007 7:23 AM | Report abuse

My son is now 17 and has had a phone since he was 8. He was always a responsible child even at that age. We got him the phone because we both worked at the time and it would take over an hour to get to him from our job. He never misused his phone and never went over the minutes he was allowed to use it. There was an emergency once and I was glad he had the phone. He used it to talk to friends and call one of us if he wanted to go to a friends house after school instead of going home. There is no age, I think, a child should get a phone, it depends on the maturity level of the child and the need of the parent to be able to reach their child. If one parent is close to the child school there is not as great a need for a young child to have a phone as when both parents work and are far from the school.

Posted by: jim evans | April 10, 2007 11:18 AM | Report abuse

We did not have cell phones when I grew up here in the Washington area during the late 60s to early 80s. Nor were kidnappings a regular feature on the nightly news. Nor were our parents faced with adults using chat rooms to lure children to their homes via the Internet. Times have changed and the world does not seem as safe as it was for me and my brother as tweens and teenagers. I never thought I would provide my 9 and 10 year olds with cell phones, but I have and do not regret it. The frequent stories of child abductions and sexual predators are enough reason for me. Many phones have GPS capabilities these days which would make locating a missing child easier. Yes, I survived without a cell phone (or bike helmet or seatbelts, etc.) but that was then and this is now.

Posted by: pinkelephantdc | April 16, 2007 3:05 PM | Report abuse

at the age of about 13 you should get a cell phone. that is when most kids begin to mature.

Posted by: Yona | April 16, 2007 9:02 PM | Report abuse

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