What do you do?
by Jennifer molk
It’s happening earlier and earlier – the desperate whine from our kids for their first cellular telephone. Parents were shocked when they wanted one at age 16, until brother or sister wanted one by age 13. Today, the request and often expectation for a personal cell phone has trickled as far down in age to that of first and second graders, or as soon as they can text the words: ‘Wher r u? I got a cell phn!’
There is of course no written rule on an appropriate age for a cell phone. So how can parents decide what age kids are ready for the responsibility? Most parents agree it all depends on the child, and there are pros and cons in every situation.
Billings mom Michelle Cantrell, who has an 18-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, opted for a pay-as-you-go plan for her daughter’s first cell phone.
“Amberly started out with a Tracphone because that is all she wanted for Christmas,” Michelle begins. “It cost us $19.99 so we figured if it got lost it would be okay.”
With pay-as-you-go phone plans, the consumer buys each minute they plan to use, rather than entering into a lengthy contract offering unlimited talk time. The decision has served Michelle and Amberly well.
“She was actually really worried about using up her minutes so she hardly ever used it,” Michelle laughed. “She leaves it at home more than she doesn’t, but I make sure she has it when I need her to have it.”
For Michelle, buying a cell phone for Amberly has allowed her to lengthen the leash a bit on her daughter’s extracurricular activities and she has placed more trust in her daughter.
“I wouldn’t let her do as much as I do if she didn’t have it,” Michelle admits. “I let her go skating only because I know she can call me if she needs to or I can get hold of her if I need to. She can go her separate way at the mall and I can call her when I am ready to go. It even comes in handy (when she has it) when we get separated at Walmart.”
Michelle says she is now willing to go those extra steps in helping Amberly take on more responsibility herself.
“I just got her a little cell phone purse so she has been doing a little better about keeping it with her,” she says. “She doesn’t always have pockets so that fixed that excuse.”
Michelle admits the decision to give her daughter a cell phone may have been in large part for her own peace of mind and that of her husband’s, but has no regrets for choosing to empower her daughter with the trust that she has.
“I would definitely recommend that you start off with a pay-as-you-go plan to see how they will do with it,” she advises. “Amberly has only misplaced her phone a couple of times and only at the house so we haven’t had to replace any phones until recently; she just left it in her pocket and I washed it but lucky for us her contract was up.
“She has never gone over her minutes but I used to watch pretty close,” Michelle continues.
Furthermore, Michelle is proud to report her 18-year-old son has proven himself to be equally as responsible. “Josh has had his phone for a long time too and I have never had any problems with his either!”
Lockwood mom Charlotte Peterson has two sons, 19-year-old Nathan and 12-year-old Aaron. Charlotte and her husband Jeff made the decision to give Nathan his first cell phone at the age of 15.
“He wanted Internet and unlimited text messaging,” Charlotte explains, “so I told him that he had to pay for his cell phone. The reasons I liked him having a cell phone was mainly that it made it a lot easier to get a hold of him when he was out and about. I also liked knowing that he was able to call me if he any reason to do so.”
Charlotte says Nathan was fairly responsible with it and agreed to pay for everything, including extra ring tones and games.
“Probably the biggest negatives were texting during school and the use of his phone while driving,” Charlotte says. “He never had any accidents because of it, but it did cause me to worry.”
By time Charlotte’s younger son, Aaron, who is now 12, wanted his first cell phone, economics factored in, and by buying Aaron a phone, the Peterson’s were able to save a bit of money themselves.
“We got Aaron a cell phone when he was 10,” Charlotte recalls. “We had cancelled our land line and we wanted him to have a cell phone when he was by himself. He has been responsible with his phone for the most part. One time he forgot he had his cell phone in his pocket and went swimming.”
So Charlotte found him a cheaper, used phone for $40 and told Aaron he had to pay for it himself.
“He is looking forward to having a nicer phone so I am hoping he will take care of it when he gets one.”
All in all, Charlotte is happy with her decision to impart the trust and responsibility in her boys at an early age.
“I would say that for the most part I think it’s pretty important for kids to have a cell phone,” she concludes. “I think it helps to keep them safer and more accessible as they get more freedom. I think it’s important to have definite rules associated with having a cell phone.”
Good cell phone rules of thumb…
Draw up a contract between parents and child…
Make sure the child knows the rules beforehand, such as: the phone belongs to mom and dad. Mom and Dad have the right to go through it at any time, and cancel service at any time, etc.
No texting while driving; while in school; while biking; while walking down the street.
Never allow the phone near water. That includes swimming pools and bathrooms.
Never post a phone number online…
Charge the phone in a family-shared spot..
Never allow the child to keep the phone away from parents overnight.
It’s easy to increase independence rather than rescind it
Consider a pay-as-you-go plan with limited minutes for a first phone. Start with a no-frills inexpensive phone (call it a starter phone) You can always add minutes later on.
Add internet service later as a reward for being responsible.
Monitor the use of a child’s cell phone. Don’t be afraid to keep close tabs on who a child is talking to and texting. SFM