A real family phone plan

When deciding what age is appropriate to get your kids cellphones, follow these tips and listen to your instincts

Special to The TribuneNovember 17, 2011 

Cellphones are a staple commodity of childhood. According to a Mediamark survey, 20 percent of all children between 6 and 11 years of age have their own cellphones. That’s an increase of nearly 81 percent since 2005.

Parents cite a wide variety of valid reasons for purchasing cellphones for their kids. Youngsters are easily reachable should they need to picked up from an activity. Their exact location can be pinpointed by GPS functions on the phone. Boys and girls get to call and text their friends. In divorced households, they can freely communicate with the absent parent. Youngsters gain greater independence and learn how to be responsible. And, in the event of an emergency, they can reach Mom or Dad in a nanosecond.

When’s the right age to give Junior his first iPhone? The answer’s not cast in concrete.

General parental wisdom says that cellphones are essential by the time teens start driving. Parents need to know if their son or daughter is having car trouble or has had an accident.

But they can be valuable as soon as kids start going places by themselves. Somewhere around fourth grade, they walk home from school with friends. They require less direct parent-child contact. They have activities that are separate from their families. Cellphones become a useful tool for keeping moms and dads in the loop.

Other parents take a more proactive stance. They want toddlers as young as 3 to be connected at all times. They rationalize that tots can wander off or be abducted by a stranger and that having access to a cellphone enables frantic parents to track them down.

Regardless of where you fall in this continuum, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions before purchasing that cellphone:

• Does my child really need a cellphone?

• Can I afford the payments?

• Is my child responsible enough to take care of a cellphone?

• Can my child follow my specific rules about cellphone use?

• Do I have a specific policy in place if my child proves unable to manage the phone?

• Do I know how to access controls that will appropriately limit what my child can and can’t do on the cellphone?

If you can answer yes to each of these questions, then a cellphone may be right for you and your child. If, however, you answered no or you still have lingering doubts, then it’s best to follow your instincts. You know what’s right for your offspring. Don’t cave in to constant nagging. And don’t feel compelled to follow the example of other parents. You’re in charge on this issue. Make your decision accordingly.

Tips for your child’s first cellphone

Once you’ve decided to buy your younger child a cellphone, you’ll want to:

• Place strict limits on who can call or be called on the phone.

• Purchase a prepaid plan with limited minutes so you don’t face surprise charges at the end of the month.

• Consider handing over the phone at specific times when your child won’t be near another phone. If your daughter is at soccer practice it may be difficult for her to reach you any other way.

• Disable Internet access, instant messaging or chat capabilities.

• Be sure it has GPS tracking so you know where your child is at all times.

• Have a discussion about appropriate behavior with the phone. Talk about when the phone may be used and proper etiquette for making calls.

• Discuss consequences if the rules aren’t followed. Institute a one-warning-only policy. A misstep warrants one warning. A second offense revokes all privileges for a designated period of time, or until the child has sufficiently matured.

Top-rated cellphones designed for first-time users include:

Kajeet: A cellphone with no contracts, no activation fees and no fees for termination. Parents can control a variety of activities through an online dashboard, such as hours the phone is to be used.

LG MIGO VX1000: A phone for Verizon customers, it’s specifically designed for young children. It has four keys that parents can program with numbers the child is allowed to call.

Firefly glowPhone: Two large keys can be programmed for calling Mom and Dad. Parents can also determine certain numbers that may be called or received.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com

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