My wife and I are in a position where we are helping our daughter, a single mom, care for our 12-year-old grandson. One of our responsibilities is to make sure, when he gets to our house after school, that he does his homework. During dinner last evening he mentioned that he had an after-school function and needed to be picked up. Unfortunately, he wasn’t sure if he needed to be picked up at 4:00 or 4:30 p.m. (the time was actually at 4:15 p.m.). During the conversation we learned that we had one minor issue to overcome in that he couldn’t call us from school with the correct time because our cellphone is a long distance call. Understanding the school’s position, I was in a quandary wondering if he was old enough and responsible enough to own his own cellphone.

When the daughter came to pick up her son, we had an interesting conversation. Her opinion was that he was too young to own a cellphone, which led to a debate on what age would be appropriate for a child to own one. She stated that when he started driving and got a job he could get a cellphone or smartphone, to which I immediately responded: “Why not wait until the kid gets married so he can then use his wife’s phone?” However, while I personally thought my comment was hilarious, I don’t think she appreciated my sense of humor. When she left, we were still up in the air as to when a child should be allowed to get a cellphone or smartphone.

Cellphones or Smartphones: Are Your Kids Too Young?Back in 2009, the Pew Research Center saw a large segment of young people aged 12-17 using cellphones. The PRC reported that some 71% of teens and 77% of adults were using cellphones. I am sure both numbers are higher, but the report did not break down two factors:

  • Categories were not separated for the youngsters by specific ages (e.g., how many 12-year-olds, how many 13-year-olds, etc.).
  • How many children under the age of 12 had cellphones.

It was during my research into this subject that I located an excellent article by Maggie Lamond Simone at the Huffington Post that summoned up some of the basics as to when a child should get a cellphone. They are:

  • Maturity level. Some children at the age of six or seven are mature enough to have a basic phone, while others may need to wait until they are in their teens before they are able to handle the responsibility.
  • Restricting cellphone use, by limiting calls, can be an effective way to keep your child from running up a huge bill.
  • Pay-as-you-go plans with minute limits, no Internet connection, and without a camera are also recommended for children. These types of phones are becoming harder to find.

When my children were in school, and now with my grandson, I recall many occasions when I was required to search through piles of jackets, gloves, and even shoes in search of something that they had left at school. The amount of stuff that kids lose has always amazed me. With that in mind, what happens to a cellphone that is lost?

  • Private contacts can become available to a stranger.
  • Private photographs, for camera-enabled cellphones, are lost.
  • Most inexpensive phones don’t come with a sync capability, so anything stored on the phone is gone.

We discovered another thing about which we were unaware: Our grandson came home and told us that it is our local school district’s ruling that students are not allowed to use their cellphone during school hours. That meant that, unless he used the phone in the school office that wouldn’t allow him to call our cellphone, he could not contact us in the event of an emergency or a change in plans. With that being the case, we can’t see a reason for him needing a cellphone.

So how can you tell when your child is ready to carry around a cellphone?

The answer is fairly simple. Give your child a broken, unused, or unconnected cellphone to carry around for one semester. If they don’t lose it and can show it to you at the end of the semester, the child may be responsible enough to own their own cellphone or smartphone.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo of adorable child gnawing on a cellphone shared by mueritz.