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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Teens and cell phones

One of the questions The Online Mom gets asked most frequently is: At what age is it appropriate for a child to have a cell phone? Usually we reply that there's no one right answer; it depends on how often your child is out of the house without you – away at camp, playing soccer, visiting relatives, etc.

It's true that occasionally kids as young as 8 or 9 show up on the school bus with brand new cell phones but after a while, with no-one to call, the phones usually end up gathering dust in a kitchen drawer.

However, there is no doubt that cell phone ownership is getting younger all the time. A recent study by The Pew Internet Project found that cell phone use among teens has climbed steadily from 45% in 2004 to 71% in 2008. The study also found that teens have rapidly closed the gap between themselves and adults when it comes to overall cell phone ownership. A 20 point difference in 2004 was down to just 6 points last year.

So, at what age do the majority of teens get a phone? Not surprisingly, older teens are more likely to own cell phones than younger teens. As the chart below shows, well over 80% of teens have a phone by the time they are 16. However, the Pew study found that half of all children aged 12 also have a phone, a huge jump from the 18% recorded back in 2004. The largest increase in ownership occurs at age 14, right around the transition between middle and high school.

The study also looked at how cell phone ownership among teens compared with other electronic devices. While 71% owned a cell phone:
•    77% of teens owned a gaming console*
•    74% of teens owned an iPod or MP3 player
•    60% of teens owned a desktop or laptop computer*
•    55% of teens owned a portable gaming device

(* The study acknowledged that while cell phones, iPods and other portable devices tend to be heavily personalized and "owned" by one person, it is harder to allocate gaming consoles and computers that are available for family use.)

While the study is not much help in answering an individual parent's question as to what is right for their family, it's clear that the clamor for cell phone ownership is coming at an ever-earlier age. By 2012, don't be surprised if those early-adopting 8 and 9 year-olds are already racking up the minutes!

Let us know what you think. Would you consider buying a cell phone for a 4th grader? Are we able to slow the trend towards ever-younger digital kids?   

Comment by GamerGirl, posted 5/13/2012, 10:19 AM:

I am a 6th grader and during late Summer last year I got my 1st cell phone. My friends have had phones since 3rd grade, and I've always really wanted one. My parents weren't completely onboard with the idea; they didn't think I was ready for a real phone. So they got me a kajeet phone instead.
Getting kajeet was really easy. I went to kajeet.com/shopphones, and picked out the one I wanted. Just for back to school, phones were half off! I really wanted the Samsung Intercept, but it was $100, and my daddy didn't want to spend over $85.
I asked my father, but he said no. Then I went on ebay and got it for 50 dollars, 55 with tax! Also, it was in black, not pink! Many people were selling cases, too.Overall, I paid 60 dollars for phone, shipping, and the case, and 20 dollars for a plan per month. That was less than the original phone!

Kajeet is great, my parents control who I call and when. You can still just get a cheap phone with a great plan!!
Comment by Dalia (Gen X Mom), posted 3/19/2010, 6:57 AM:

I fought it but then gave in, but mostly for myself. I find it nice to be able to reach my son when I need to. There is a comfort in it. Sure we didn't have phones growing up so people think, why do they need them now. But, we are lucky now to have this technology. I think kids need to have rules with their phones, but I am happy in my decision to provide him with a phone and don't regret it.
Comment by Lorie Cunningham, posted 3/7/2010, 10:22 AM:

Kajeet is a great cell phone service that uses sprint towers so it has great connectivity. The best thing is that there are parental controls that no other cell phone service has. I am a single parent and didn't feel my son was ready for a cell phone but wanted to be able to reach him when needed. I found Kajeet and have been extremely happy. I have also become a member of the moms sales team because I believe in this cell phone service so much. This link can get you 15% off your handset.http://www.kajeet.com/kajeetStore/landing.do?lp=Mom&c=B142&
Comment by Marli, posted 1/23/2010, 5:07 PM:

my best freinds cousins daughter wants a cell phone but shes only four & her mom really wants to ginve in!
Comment by Heather, posted 12/8/2009, 7:53 PM:

I've got to admit, my son had his pay phone at 9. I was nervous because he was getting picked on a lot outside and it makes me feel safer. Now he's almost 11 and we've added another line to our unlimited family plan for $20/month. Like I said, it makes me feel better.
Comment by Rita, posted 10/5/2009, 9:23 PM:

Dear Online Mom, There are online articles on the link between cell phones and brain tumors. According to these articles, children are more at risk because they have softer and thinner skulls than adults and nervous systems that are still developing (mercola.com, emaxhealth.com). It may be a good idea to ask them to use the speakerphone (instead of keeping it close to their ear), if they have to use it at all. Rita
Comment by Keith Pitts Photography, posted 9/18/2009, 10:52 PM:

I can't even imagine what will be in store for my 5 and 2 year old...technology is moving too fast - to think, there weren't even cell phones when I was little!
Comment by RobynsOnlineWorld, posted 9/18/2009, 12:33 AM:

My son had a Firefly pay as you go phone in the summer in 5th/6th grade range. We found we really didn't need it very much - he won it in a contest so we didn't even have to buy it. When he was 13 is when we got him his first actual cell phone on our plan. We eliminated our land line shortly after that and we all just use cell phones now.
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