Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Kids and Cell Phones.

by Abby Margolis Newman


I've been struggling for months now with the idea of whether to buy a cellphone for my 11-year-old son, Henry, so it was with great interest that I read the recent article in the New York Times entitled, "When to Buy Your Child a Cellphone." To be honest, I was hoping that the gist of the article would be, for Henry, "Not Yet!" - I've consistently felt that fifth grade is too young for cellphones - but the reality is that a cellphone wave is a-coming straight toward his peer group, and I need to decide whether to let Henry ride it or let it crash over his head.


When Henry was in fourth grade, exactly one child got a phone that year - and it was an iPhone. Once I got over the initial shock, I thought, OK: a) if any kid was going to get a cellphone in fourth grade, this would be the kid; and b) it's an anomaly. By fifth grade, it seemed that everything had changed. In November we attended Henry's "Back to School Night," and his teacher informed the assembled parents that approximately 50% of the kids had cellphones. My jaw literally dropped. Half the kids?! Now, at the end of his fifth-grade year, Henry's teacher tells me that percentage has risen to over 70%.


With our older two boys, my husband and I agreed that it would make sense for them to have cellphones starting in middle school. They would be riding their bikes to school every day, and we wanted them to have a way to call us if a bike broke down - or, as happened a couple of years ago, if one of them should happen to get hit on his way home (very gently) by a car driven by a kindly octogenarian. Since this was around 2006-2007, texting wasn't an issue because texting didn't exist yet. The boys barely used their phones during those years.


2010 is, as everyone knows, another story. In the New York Times article, Stefanie Olsen writes, "Parents generally say they buy their child a phone for safety reasons, because they want to be able to reach the child anytime. . . But for children, it is all about social life and wanting to impress peers." And it's all about texting. "Experts say the social pressure to text can get acute by the sixth grade," reports Olsen, "when most children are 11 years old."


Good god. Why do 11-year-olds need to text? And about what? Our two older boys did not text until high school. OK, if I'm honest with myself I must admit that the advent of texting coincided with their time in high school, but still. I have spent the last few months in frequent arguments with Henry, all of which go something like this:


Henry: Mom, when can I get a cell phone?
Me: Middle school.
Henry: Can't I have one now? A lot of kids already have them.
Me: No. You don't need one.
Henry: When I get it, can I have texting?
Me: No. You don't need texting in sixth grade, that's ridiculous.
Henry: Yes I do! Everyone else has texting - if I don't have it, I'll be totally out of it and feel like a dork.
Me: (Guilt-ridden silence.)



It is all your responsibility and concern if you want to buy your kids or not, after all, if that device is certainly needs by your son, then why not.. Just also think that there are good possibilities and nature why one should have cellphone, on the other hand their is also conflict specially if child is starting to focus on that medium other than learning his school works. As parents, you must have guidance, those articles you read is just a guidelines, they may be valid or not yet, what they are assuming was true. Proper guidance all that you need.

Tyra @ petroleum engineering application dept.


My daily struggle as a parent is trying to figure out if what I'm asking my children is something they can understand for their respective ages. Is my request age-appropriate? Is a 12-year-old ready to handle the responsibility of using a cell phone (which was purchased for emergency purposes)?

On the one hand it's important to give anyone, especially kids the benefit of the doubt. In other words - make it a reasonable request and then throw it out there with consequences clearly stated and see what they do with it. It should teach them responsibility, accountability and problem-solving at a very basic level.
On the other hand, when they come back with something ridiculous, or illustrate their independence or defiance in a way that makes you cringe - then deal with it at that point. This is where the fun starts!


I gave my high schooler a prepaid cell phone with limited minutes and some texts, as I know they mostly text these days...I'm learning! It's great to be able to manage the minutes and texts, by controlling the amount every month. I gave him a Net10 phone with basic calling and texting capabilities. I can even customize it on a month to month basis. I'm also saving money by having him on that plan and not adding him to ours.


We got my 11-yr old phone last summer because he was going to a wide variety of camps, and a lot of times riding with friends to and from those camps. We thought it would be useful in case of emergency, and to stay connected. It went well, since most of his friends did not have a cell phone. When 5th grade started, however, a ton of kids had them, and yes, the texting was totally out of hand. We had to learn as we went. To get unlimited texting, he had to pick up additional chores to pay for the difference in price. Then we had the issue of texting all hours of the day -- to which we gave him a choice. Either turn off his phone at 9pm, or he would have to also pay for me to add monitoring to my cellular service. The other choice was to "check-in" his phone every night, and "check-out" the phone in the morning. So far, he has been very good about not texting or calling after 9. We also told him that he can't text someone in the same room, or if we'd be seeing them within 10 minutes. I've also tried to instill in him that texting does not replace face-to-face communication, or a phone call. Some situations need to be in person, or via phone, such as asking permission to do something or go somewhere. My advise -- lay the ground rules out BEFORE giving them a phone, preferably in writing, and have them sign and agree to the terms. Also be clear about expectations and consequences. Most kids don't have a lot of restraint at that age, but if you tell them up front what is acceptable and unacceptable, they can usually adapt. Not that I haven't taken my son's phone away for various infractions, but he knows when he's screwed up, and those instances have become less frequent.


I barely have a cellphone, in that a grand total of four people have the number (and only for emergencies), I only use the phone when absolutely necessary, my longest call on record (of the entire six times I've used it in the year and one half I've had it) was about 4 minutes, texting is NOT enabled, and my phone has no games, camera, or internet access or "apps". I value my privacy, and there are perhaps four or five people with whom I actually engage in extended phone conversations. I much prefer face to face meetings, or email. I never talked on the phone much as a teen either, except to set up dates, either the "friend" or "other" variety.

My son will be going to 7th grade next year, and his cell phone is identical to mine. He actually talks face-to-face with his friends, not via text. We are not Luddites, my partner is an IT specialist for a major petroleum company (who despises his "Crack-berry"), and I have never met a computer system that I couldn't conquer, and even learn to troubleshoot. But the texting thing even baffles my son (a straight A student who is especially brilliant in the sciences and math, AND who is a gentle, compassionate, friendly person who has never met a stranger, and is genuinely kind to people).

I do think a lot depends on the parents. If children see their parents constantly engaged on their cell phones, talking and texting everywhere, all of the time, even in the car (grrrr, waiting for them to make it illegal in Texas. I will take an inordinate amount of pleasure watching the police stop soccer moms for talking and texting in their mini-vans and SUV's. The curb in front of our house is a favorite pull-over location, as there is a dangerous intersection close by that I have had far too many close encounters of the doofus-on-a-cell-phone-ignoring-the-stop-signs-and-speed-limit kind. I will try not to gawk...much less applaud), they're going to think that's the socially acceptable thing to do. I know families in which everyone talks and texts all through dinner. We don't even watch TV when we sit down to eat...and sometimes we just listen to music and read at night. Not religious extremists, or no TV-video games people, or minimalists, we just limit our electronic media time. We don't answer the phone during dinner either...that's what voice mail is for. We are neither old, nor old-fashioned, we just have very different priorities than most of the people we know. We even still have a land-line, and a corded phone for emergencies. In hurricane season, the electricity and the cell towers sometimes both go out, but never the land lines.


Oh, really I don't think it's such a big deal anymore. My tween (also graduating 5th grade this year, 10yo) has had cell phones (2) for a couple of years so I can reach her/emergency purposes. We only buy her prepaid airtime cards, so calls/text, but no internet. Many of these options don't have a camera, but I've found advantages for the ones that do. I like the option to MMS her a picture of a shirt I think she'll like before buying it only to learn how lame it is. Because she lost the first phone, she had quite a long wait for another one, and no hope of being on an unlimited data plan anytime soon. Additionally, I don't have a land line, we never use them anymore. If she wants to talk to her friends, I sure don't want them calling me! The prepaid also makes her aware of her minutes bank, how many minutes can be eaten by texting, and how her allowance is for more than phone cards. I feel it helps her sense of responsibility.


After a tsunami of issues surrounded my phone, my then 9 year old ended up with a prepaid phone for which she or the grandparents bought minutes. At ten, she started riding the city bus and/or walking to my office after school so we paid for her phone line. We have unlimited texting on our plan already because we text a lot although she does pay a few dollars a month (1/2 of a week's allowance). Texting has replaced talking (for good or bad) but she rarely talks on her phone and neither do her friends; it's all text. Where you and I would have a conversation, they text. Since the time I got an uninitated-by-dad apology from her while I was out running errands one evening, I'm glad she has it. While getting something out of her may be impossible on the phone or face-to-face, her love of texting lets us communicate more :) And she does have a data plan that was a Christmas present from the grandparents but she also knows that the phone can be taken away for misuse and if we have to put the "parent controls" on, she has to pay for it. Now, the almost 8 year-old wants a phone but that's on hold for now.

Like the previous poster, watch the limits on text. On your next phone call, count how many times that each of you speak, even one word responses and you'll see how quickly the number of texts will add up since they are carrying on complete conversations via text.


I have a three year old and she already wants a phone - granted she wants to call the Grandmas and her cousins and take pictures- but still. Advice from my best friend with a 13 year old and 11 year old - check your texting plan because your son may go over way before you realize it - she switched their whole family to an unlimited texting family plan and it was actually cheaper in the long run - she makes her kids do chores for the phones. or as she puts it Mommy gives and Mommy takes away. as for the texting - I watched little kids (tween and teen) at a NY Eve party text each other across the room without talking and I just find it sad. However I realize I am old and old fashioned.