Kids and cellphones: Knowing when the time is right

A nine-year-old boy talks on a cell phone. He's holding a Pepsi can in his other hand, and there's a red Boston Red Sox baseball cap on his head.

Should a child have a cellphone plan? Consider the pros and cons. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Scott LaPierre/Flickr)

Many parents wrestle with whether a child should have a cellphone, and some will cave beneath the social pressure and make the purchase. If you’re a parent teetering on the edge of a cellphone buying decision, consider some advice on kids and cellphones, courtesy of the National Consumers League.

Kids using cellphones: They’re getting younger

Cellular industry experts note that approximately 75 percent of U.S. teenagers own cellphones, and the fastest-growing group of cellphone users is the demographic between ages 9 and 12, says NCL representative John Breyault.

“The age a child gets a first cellphone is getting progressively younger. Parents want to be in touch with their kids,” said Breyault.

Whether it’s for emergencies or simply keeping up with the Joneses, the NCL advises that you keep a few things in mind before buying the first cellphone for your child.

Why does my kid need a cellphone?

This is the first thing a parent should consider before buying a child a cellphone. Emergency GPS use is a given, but things like standard gab time, texting, chat, Internet access, music downloads and gaming should all be considered. Plus, if they’re prone to losing things, you’ll want to ponder purchasing handset replacement insurance.

Picking a plan

Once you know what your child needs in a cellphone, it’s time to select a service plan. Will your tween stick to limits on texting, calling and data, or do you need a plan with a hard cap?

Decide between a standard contract plan or a prepaid plan. A contract plan offers detailed bills that spell out all charges and allows you to lock in a package of options, but the typical two-year contract comes with a stiff early termination fee if you decide to try something else. Prepaid plans, on the other hand, allow you to avoid overage fees, but smartphones on prepaid plans are typically more expensive.

Your child’s cell phone should be able to get reception in all the standard areas (school, sporting areas, malls, friends’ houses, etc). If reception is spotty, that chunk of plastic and metal is far less useful.

A few words on texting

Texting and SMS are important parts of any modern cellphone plan, so choose wisely. It’s relatively easy for a tween or teen to rack up 2,000 to 4,000 texts per month, so a parent should consider an unlimited plan. This becomes even more important if minutes and texts are being shared on a family plan. Unlimited texting typically costs and extra $10 to $20 per month.

Aside from financial concerns, texting, IM, Twitter, Facebook and other messaging services can open Pandora’s box. “Sexting” should be involved in the talk parents have with their children before purchasing a cellphone. Being socially active online can also expose children to cyberbullying.

Consider whether your child is emotionally ready to have access to technology that can both bring people together and tear them apart. Plus, discuss when cellphone use is appropriate. This will differ from family to family and school to school.

DadLabs on kids and cellphones

Sources Pediatrics

The Modesto Bee

National Consumers League

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