It's Your Call

Pre-teens are demanding cell phones in droves. Good questions and clear ground rules can ease the transition for parent and child alike.

By Erin J. Bernard 

Where go the big kids, so go the little ones.

It’s a founding precept of childhood: younger kids race constantly to catch up with older siblings. This means wearing the same clothes, watching the same shows, and clamoring for the same freedoms that their more seasoned counterparts enjoy.

But how should a parent proceed when a tween or younger child requests his or her own mobile device?

With extreme care. Cells are great for keeping tabs on busy kids, but the risks and rewards are different for younger children. These tips, adapted from the National Consumer’s League and TracFone Wireless, offer a blueprint for parents considering handing a cell to a pre-teen. 

Set expectations. What is the purpose of the phone? Is it for emergencies and family contact? Or is it for communicating with friends as well? If you’re adding your kid to a family plan, agree to clear limits on usage to avoid racking up high costs. And no surprises. Set a consistent nightly curfew, and tell your kids if you plan to monitor phone content.

Ask for a buy-in. Cell phones are expensive. They are also easy to drop, smash, or leave behind, especially for distraction-prone kids. Asking your child to share in the cost of purchase will encourage more cautious behavior. And if you expect your child to pay for a lost or broken phone, say that, and mean it.

Have the awkward conversations. Is your tween mature enough to say “No” to inappropriate content or to refrain from sending a photo that could land him or her in a heap of social or legal trouble? If a child can’t handle a frank discussion about the risks inherent to unmonitored cell phone use, reconsider whether the privilege is appropriate.

Expect texts. Texting is the preferred method of communication for kids ages 11-13, according to the National Consumers League, so be sure your plan offers plenty of texts per month. And when you want to communicate with your child on the quick, opt for texts; not phone calls. You’ll hear back sooner.

Know the school rules. Together with your child, read up on any existing school policies regarding cell phones. If your child breaks rules and loses in-school phone privileges, don’t butt in. Like you, the school administration should be permitted to enforce its own regulations.

Mean what you said. Rules do no good if they are constantly flouted without consequence. If your child has trouble staying under allotted minutes, switch to a prepaid model, or consider an app like “My Mobile Watchdog,” which cuts off service at designated times. And don’t hesitate to “ground” your child from cell privileges when rules are broken.

Be available to help. If your child misuses a cell phone and lands in hot water or becomes the target of bullying from peers, he or she should feel comfortable coming to you for help. A quarter of teens report having received harassing text messages and phone calls, according to Pew Research Center data, and cyberbullying can begin as early as elementary school.

National Consumers League:
Pew Research Center:


Posted on Sep 12, 2014

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