It's become almost a rite of passage. When children become old enough, or the time is right, parents give them a cell phone. I wait forever to do it, though. Because giving a phone to a young kid seems super strange to me.
I will say that I know that each family's situation is unique. Some parents share custody with other parents, and their child has more than one home. And some kids begin their social lives and out-of-town sports trips earlier than others. There are a ton of other factors that parents consider before plopping a phone in their kids' hands and waving goodbye.
However, for me, I've never felt that giving my kids a phone when they're young was the right thing to do — in fact, the idea sounds crazy to me. I remember sitting around with other room mothers when my oldest was in the third grade and they were talking about giving their kids cell phones. My eyes glazed over and I heard Twilight Zone music… I couldn't believe they were talking about phones and 9-year-old kids. This was 10 years ago, too, so maybe I've been an old fogey for longer than I thought.
For starters, smartphones are generally too much for a small kid, and while there are plenty of non-smartphone options, it was never a step that I felt was necessary when they were young because our particular family situation never warranted it. If they went over to a friend's house, I got the parents' phone numbers. If they went somewhere, I always knew how to contact them. Since all their friends have had phones from young ages, it has always been kind of like vaccine herd immunity for us, for example, when my son was getting close to home from an out-of-town soccer match, he'd call me using his friend's phone. I had the luxury of not getting my own kid a phone because everyone else's kid had one.
When they become older teens, though, I do generally give them phones. I feel that 15 or 16 is an age where they will be responsible for the phone itself (in other words, they probably won't lose or break it) and they will also be smart about using it. We are currently using Virgin Mobile phones because they are no contract, and you pay as you go. They also have a lot of choices that are perfect for teens — you don't have to get them the latest and greatest for them to be happy (they also offer a unique prepaid data sharing plan with amazing parental controls). It also helps that a teen can often help pay for the service — forking over some of their own dough helps them develop more responsibility and ownership.
I can't judge what other parents do and, in fact, other kids having phones benefits us. Modern times have shown that nearly everyone has a phone of their own, and our kids will eventually get phones, too. But while they are still small, and while they are still so close to home, it has never seemed like something we've needed to do.
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