Giving Your Child A Cell Phone

My 12-year-old daughter got her first smart phone a few weeks ago. It was a big deal around here because she’s been asking for one for years.

In our neighborhood, most kids get a phone in third grade, that’s because it’s the year when they are let out after school without parents and caregivers present. We don’t have busses, so many children either walk home or meet their grown-ups at a designated pick up location.

It makes sense for parents to provide this added measure of safety for their kids. However I just couldn’t get on board with my 8-year-old walking around with what I was sure would amount to an expensive toy that allowed them to make unlimited phones calls, participate in group chats, and access the internet.

When considering whether or not to give our daughter a cell phone my husband and I considered 3 things.

Need

I asked my daughter why she wanted a phone. Her answer:

  • To change her pick-up location.
  • To ask for a last minute play date.
  •  In case of an emergency

I wasn’t convinced there was a real need knowing there are many ways for our daughter to contact us after school if she needed to because:

  • The library is conveniently located across the street from school and allows children to call their parents.
  • My daughter has an iPod. With a Wi-Fi connection, either at their school or the library, she can easily text me.
  •  95% of her friends have phones who are more then willing to let her make a call.

Money

Even though our budget allowed for this additional expense, I really didn’t want to spend more money for another phone or data plan. After hearing from other parents about lost phones and cracked screens, I wasn’t willing to trust my elementary aged child to take care of something so fragile.

Values

Most importantly, giving our child a $500 phone, with no strings attached, did not line up with our financial family mission statement or our core values. My husband and I have noticed that often, the things you don’t earn, sacrifice, or save for are taken for granted. With children, it can lead to sense of entitlement, which we were trying to avoid.

So we said NO to a phone.

Earlier this year, three-quarters of the way through 7th grade, my daughter started lobbying for a phone again. My old reasons for saying no were still valid but I realized I had become proud of the fact that I was the last parent to “give in”. I recognized my stance was no longer about our family’s values and budget but about my pride. So I reconsidered.

After a bit of discussion, my husband and I came up with a plan.  

Our daughter could have a phone but she would need to:

  •  Pay for it. Luckily, the cost of the phone is spread out over a 1-year period in the monthly bill.
  •  Pay for the data. This is actually a small cost because it is an add-on to an existing account.
  • Give us three months of payments up front. Much like a security deposit, it ensures that if she is unable to pay it one month, it will not go unpaid.
  • If she missed more than two monthly payments she would have give the phone back.

Giving our daughter a phone did not line up with our financial family mission statement or our core values. Allowing her to have a phone under these specific conditions did.

After thinking about it my girl decided she was willing to use her savings to get started and then find ways to generate a consistent income (babysitting and additional chores) to keep the phone. I was thrilled she agreed because it will allow her to practice stewardship and financial responsibility while she is young.

The reasons and circumstances for allowing a child to have a phone will vary for each family. Parents might:

  •  Consider it a household expense and give it no strings attached.
  • Give them a phone but limit calls to family only.
  • Gift them a phone (birthday, Christmas, etc.) and have them pay the cellular and data charges.
  • Split the bill each month.
  • Require chores in exchange for a phone plus cover monthly charges.

When you measure your choice against your values and financial goals you can’t go wrong.