The Great
Cell Phone Debate

If your teen has been pressing you for a cell phone, you may be wondering how to handle his request. Ultimately, each family has to make an individual decision, but here are some points to consider.

Young teen girl texting

Back in the dark ages (say, the 1980s), people frequently left their homes, and there was absolutely no way to get in touch with them until they returned, whether 20 minutes or 20 days later.

These days, of course, it's not uncommon for people to race 20 minutes home to retrieve a forgotten cell phone. We apologize for being unreachable -- "I'm so sorry, my ringer was on 'silent'" -- and check for missed calls constantly. Is it any wonder that teens and tweens want in on the action?

So what's the right answer when your teen asks for a cell phone? Here are a few questions to ask before you make a decision.

Consider the need

1. Does your teen drive or frequently ride in cars driven by other teens? You certainly don't want to encourage talking or texting while driving, but if your teenager does tool around town in a car, a cell phone may be a good idea. Likewise, if he hitches rides with his friends, you may want to give him a way to get in touch with you easily. If his ride home is drunk, if something happens that makes him uncomfortable, or if the car is too full to accommodate him safely, wouldn't you rather that he call you?

2. Is your teen involved in sports, youth group, or other club activities that take him out of town regularly? Whether the travel is overnight or simply into the late hours, you may want a way to reach your child when he's out and about. A daily check-in gives you a chance to make sure everything is all right, and it's reassuring to your teen as well -- even if he'd never admit it.

Read more about teens and cell phone independence.

3. Does your teen have a job or volunteer position where others need to reach him? Some jobs come with last minute shift changes. If your teen is already in a more responsible position, other employees may have questions for him when he's not at work. And even volunteer work can sometimes lead to a frantic phone call for extra help. If your teen is reachable, he'll be able to advance his situation more easily.

4. Are you regularly out of town or at work late? Maybe you're the one with the crazy calendar. While you're out earning a living, your teen is on his own. This is a particularly tricky situation -- you want your child to be able to reach you, but you don't want the phone to give him so much freedom that you can't control him. A cell phone can be a useful tool, but you'll need to be extra careful about the rules of use.

Read more about the right age to give your teen a cell phone.

Consider the want

What's the primary reason for the phone? Why does your teen really want the phone? Is it so that he can be in touch with you? Or is it so that he can be more in the social loop? Or is it because all of their friends have one so they think they should have one? That's not necessarily a bad thing -- but you should be aware of it and acknowledge it as the reason for the phone if that's the case.

Along with the primary purpose for the phone, you should consider the rules for its use. Who pays for overages -- and what are the consequences? Will you be able to see the phone whenever you want to check text messages, call logs and other information?

Consider your teen

Do you trust your teen? This is perhaps the most critical question to consider. Has your teen demonstrated responsibility? A cell phone can be a dangerous tool for a teen to have. Can your child handle it? Only you can decide the answer to that question -- but we're here to talk it over whenever you want.

What's your biggest cell phone concern? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments on "Does your teen need a cell phone?"

shantilia February 23, 2010 | 11:22 PM

I totally agree with Ruby. I have a 14 yr old son and he's already had 5 phones, the latest one he got this past Christmas that was bought by his friends mom who didnt even ask me if it was ok, and now he doesnt have any minutes on it because she told him that she'd provide the minutes but backed out. I'm not providing any minutes on it. They're great to have but he doesn't want a basic one that I have, he wants one with a huge plan and I can't afford it, and he hasnt been deserving of it.

Harrison Quigley February 19, 2010 | 10:39 AM

There's a very good reason now why you should get a smartphone for your teen. A Los Angeles-based company, SafeKidZone, is soon to launch a Mobile Personal Security Network based on a mobile phone application that places a "Panic Button" on kids' cell phones. If a kid is in danger, being bullied, being stalked by a predator or kidnapper, is injured, etc. inconspicuously holding down a designated number on their cell phone instantly triggers SMS text and email to their select group of friends, family, safe neighbors, and SafeKidZone's Call Center. It also opens a conference call so that all who respond to the Panic Button alert can conference in, hear what's going on and coordinate action. If it's truly and emergency situation, the Call Center escalates the alert to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) based on the kid's exact GPS location and puts a screen-pop on the 911 Dispatchers monitor with a link to the kids "E911 Passport", showing a recent photo of the kid, height, weight, DOB, blood type, GPS location, contact data, etc. as well as real-time updates, enabling the Dispatcher to conference in as well. By-passing the legacy analogue telecom system, with its inherent hold times and situational fog, emergency response time is cut to the irreducible minimum, thus saving lives. Recently tested at a Long Beach, CA PSAP, Public Safety New Generation 9-1-1 officials are ecstatic with the results. It's like OnStar for your kid instead of your car. Features include safety and security data for any given location or area - Crime Data Map, Offender Map, historical GPS tracking and a calculated Threat Level for the area a kid is in or is going to. These increase situational awareness for kids and parents and enable them to avoid danger as well. The objective of SafeKidZone is to place such a Panic Button on every kid's cell phone - kids who are between the ages of 8 - 18.

Ruby February 17, 2010 | 8:09 AM

My biggest concern with teens and cell phones isn't mentioned in this article. My issue is the entitlement complex. Of course teens don't just want phones - they want, and are getting, SMART phones with super-expensive data plans. And not just teens - even young tweens are proud possessors. I worry about the message this sends, because kids really take this luxury for granted.

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