What age is OK for a Cell Phone?

There are "needs" and there are "wants" in life and in many ways a child cell phone can fit into both categories.

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents, caregivers and other members of the community are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting topics.

This week’s Moms Talk question relates to children and cell phones.

Growing up, the right of passage for me was that fateful day when I would be able to get a telephone in my ROOM. For my older son, apparently, it will be the day he gets to walk around with a telephone in his POCKET. He’s only in third grade, and he’s already asking about it.

I am pretty sure that the phone in my room came at age 13. Is that what I should tell him? Is a cell phone and an extension off your parent’s house phone really the same thing? I’m not sure…

So, here’s what I want to know:

What age do you think is the right one to give a child a cell phone? And, when that time comes, what kinds of parameters will you put in place to guide its use?

Our Moms Council members include: 

  • Lisa Amey of Upper Milford Township is a stay-at-home mother of two. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and longtime member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International. 
  • Lisa Drew of Emmaus is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17 years of experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston of Emmaus has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, NJ in January.
  • Lisa Merk of Lower Macungie is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paul of Bethlehem is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5-year-old and a 14-month-old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus works part time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children -- a boy who is almost 2 and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing.

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Lisa Merk October 07, 2012 at 11:56 AM
I really think it depends on the need and the maturity of the child. We got my oldest son a cell phone when he was 9. In my opinion that's probably to young, however there was a need for it with him and he was a fairly responsible kid. There were times when hubby was out of town and the 4 kids harrow be somewhere at the same time or someone was sick. So it made me feel better if I had to drop him off at a field that he had a way to contact me. k I will say about half of his friends had one at that poimpoint.
ted.dobracki October 07, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Motherof1 October 07, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Most young kids just want a cell phone for the Apps so they can play games. Chaperone a field trip with 4th, 5th and 6th graders and watch them all whip out their cell phones to play Angry Birds, etc. on the bus. As a full-time working mother with a Master's degree, soccer mom to a 12 year old travel player and coach's wife, nothing infuriates me more than parents who perform the "dump and run" and leave their children at the practice field. Children should be chaperoned by a parent at all times and NOTHING can take the place of good parenting. Getting the child a cell phone may ease the parent's conscience, but it does not justify creating the safety issue for the child in the first place. A cell phone is not a babysitter. The fact that half the children in the same age group have a cell phone is not a valid defense and further proves my point; it is an indictment on today's parenting. Then, when these kids are old enough to drive, they are texting and driving. How many children have to die behind the wheel because they cannot recognize that their eyes need to be on the road at all times? Let me guess: All their friends have cell phones (or any other item you want to insert in place of it) and that's why it's O.K. for them to have one. I wonder how young they were when they FIRST learned that lesson from mom and dad. "Mom, Tommy has one so why can't I"? An effective parent knows the answer is : "Because I'm the parent, I know better and I said so".
Jennifer Elston October 07, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I'm not the type of parent to do something for my kids because everyone else is doing it. That being said, we don't think our kids will need phones any time soon. I don't think I can see getting my kids cell phones until they can pay for them--maybe late teens. Also, I can't stand when I see kids gathering together and all they do is text. Smart phones are creating more impulsive and disconnected children (and adults too!).
Lisa Amey October 08, 2012 at 12:41 PM
My 9 year old says lots of his classmates have an I-phone. I asked him what they do with it and he replied that they play games. Um...we have the Wii and DS systems for that! I will get him a phone when he really needs one!
Toy story mom October 08, 2012 at 01:12 PM
I just happened to stumble upon this mom's talk site and like the idea of mom's giving each other feedback, advice and opinions on different topics. However, it really is only beneficial when one gives their opinion without passing judgement and critizing others who choose a different path. We all come from different experiences, have different family dynamics and different situations that need to be considered when making decisions that best fit our own family. I have found listening to people of different opinions and ideas helpful. What I do not find helpful is those that feel the need to preach their ways as the only option, the best way, and those that do not follow it are somehow not as good of a parent. We should be helping each other, not putting eachother down. My oldest son got his first cell phone at the age of ten because there was a need. He was at an age where I felt comfortable letting him walk to the neighborhood park with friends. There are no payphones around and it did make me feel better that he could call if he needed something. It was also a convience for me. With three little ones still at home, I admit it was easier to call him to come home via the cell phone then to load up all the kids in the car, drive the minute to the park to ask him to come home. The cell did allow him a little bit of freedom. I felt confident in his maturity and surroundings that he could handle going to the park with a friend.
Toy story mom October 08, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I am a believer in giving children baby steps towards their road to independence and this was one of those baby steps. With four children in different activities, is not possible for me to to be in all places at once. It is a constant juggling act. When I felt my son was mature and responsible enough and I felt comfortable with the coaches, I had no problem letting him go to practice by himself. It was just another baby step towards independence. There also came a point where my son would prefer not to have me at practice. He enjoyed that little bit of independence. My son is now thirteen and goes to the go the movies or gets pizza with his friends. As mentioned before, there are very few payphones around, so cell phones are really a necessity. My husband and I constantly have conversations about using the cell responisbly. He happens to have a prepaid phone, which has worked out great for our family. I like knowing if he happens to loose it, we aren't out a lot of money. He recently upgraded his phone with his own money to a phone that has a full keyboard so he can text his friends. He is responsible for paying for any minutes if he should run out. So far that hasn't been an issue as he likes the idea of being able to text more than actaully texting. My other children, do not have a need for a phone yet. We will decide when the time is right based on each individual's child need, maturity and responsibility.
Vincent Lynn October 09, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Mother of 1 obviously needs to get off her sanctimonious high horse and stop judging other parents so harshly. She only has 1 child and it is obvious that she is a "helicopter" Mom. If her husband is the coach, then why does she even need to be there? Because she has no other kids to take care of - that's why. Giving a child a cell phone at nine does not mean he will end up dead while texting and driving later in life. Her implication is absurd. Mothers like her think they are wonderful because they can handle their 1 child's demands and then judge the rest of us with multiple children. What's her Master's Degree in - Pious Preaching?
Lisa Merk October 09, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I am replying directly to you as I feel you comments are directed straight at me. I am not sure why you went on a tirade about leaving children at the soccer field for practice when the topic at hand was about what age is appropriate for your child to have a cell phone, but none the less I will address your comments as presented. 1. I have chaperoned field trips for 4th, 5th and 6th graders and any field trip I've been on the children were never allowed to have their cell phones as they were on a school related trip.
Lisa Merk October 09, 2012 at 03:36 PM
2. I am also a college educated "soccer mom" and coach's wife. While I may never be Mother of the year, I consider myself a good parent, so much so that I have full confidence in the fact that my children will act appropriately whether I am present or not. The know how to behave and I don't need to helicopter parent over them. As to performing the "dump and run" - Yes, I am dropping my son off at practice, but I am not dumping him, he knows what he is expected to do, he knows how to act. He knows how to contact me and so do the coaches. Why is there a presumption that I have not spoken with the coaches about this? If there is a problem with your childs team performing the "dump and run" the coach should address it at practice or send out an email- not here where no one can do anything about it. As for me, there is nothing I can do to benefit practice and chances are I am taking another child to another practice or lesson - no matter how hard many of us try we cannot spilt ourselves and cannot be in 2, 3 and sometimes 4 places at once. This does not make me a bad parent. My husband in the beginning of every season he has coached, has sent out an email to all parents giving them my phone number his phone number and any assistant coach stating that we all other children and other obliagations.
Lisa Merk October 09, 2012 at 03:37 PM
if at anytime you need help getting your child to or from practice or a game, please give us a call. If we are able to help you out we will do so. I think it is unrealalistic in todays day and age to expect a parent to be there at all times and if we can help each out, we should. Also, children need to start gaining some independence and should know how to act in public without a parent hovering over them at all times, otherwise when they do get a little freedom they will go crazy and that is when bad decisions are being made. 3. I never said that the cell phone was a babysitter, but the fact is my son is a babysitter. He gets paid to watch younger kids and is trusted to do so. As stated in my initial comment, he is a mature kid and has reacted quickly and better than most adults in some unfortunate situations that were presented to him. It made me feel better that he had a way to contact me if practice should end early. What safety issue I am trying to justify I am unsure of, but I will say this. If there is a safety issue at hand, someone should call 911. He would if the situation warranted it. 4. I did say about half of his friends had cell phones at the point he got his - but I NEVER said nor did it, have any barring on my decision to get him his. I was simply pointing out a fact.
Lisa Merk October 09, 2012 at 03:37 PM
5. I have no idea again why texting and driving was brought up, and children dying at the wheel as it has nothing to do with this question. BUT I will say this, because we cell phones, this topic comes up alot and we talk about it alot and I ALWAYS put my purse behind me with my cell phone in it and NEVER answer it or text while driving, NEVER. So he knows, by example and plenty of discussion, what is expected from him now. When the time comes for him to drive he will (and already does) know the rules when it come to cell phones. Being the mother of any child can be difficult even in the best of times, I don't know why as mothers we need to attack or pass judgement on one another. We should support one and other and be able to express our opinions without putting others down or challenge each others parenting. We make decision what we think is best for our family and what works for one family may not be the best for another, but is doesn't make it wrong.
Lisa Merk October 09, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Thank you Toy Story mom and Vincent Lynn for your support! I appreciate it!
Beth October 10, 2012 at 02:25 AM
I am not sure when I will allow my children to get cell phones. As my children are only 3 and 6, we have not even had a little request for one. I guess when they are old enough to be responsible for such a device, that might be the time for them to start earning money toward a phone. And, let's face it, not only are their friends on these things all the time, but so are their parents. There is nothing more sad than when at a childs' game, or playground, or any other activity with their children, there are more parents on these "smart" phones then not. What ever happened to being in the moment, right here, right now-talking to the person next to you, or not-and being O.K. with that?
Motherof1 October 10, 2012 at 01:39 PM
My response was intended to enlighten; not to enrage and I sincerely apologize if I offended anyone. I am often asked, "at what age can my child decide who they want to live with, if I divorce?" My answer to BOTH questions is "18 and graduation from high school", i.e. "emancipation". Childhood ends at emancipation, so the issue of kids using cell phones to text while driving was well within the realm of the question. My unique perspective comes from living with law enforcement. Danger lurks in the Lehigh Valley suburbs. I would never risk my child's safety, no matter how "responsible" I THINK he may be. This is not the 70's when I could just "go outside and play all day until called in for dinner" or when I went trick-or-treating with friends until 11 PM. (Yes, I am ancient :)) The Jerry Sandusky's are out there and my husband and I are the best defense between them and our son. A white box truck roaming the Emmaus and Macungie 'burbs last summer trying to snatch kids, kids disappearing on their way from the bus stop to their front door, why would you even chance it? In every instance, it's always the child's cell phone left behind that the police find. Ironic, eh? How is it that a cell phone is considered by many moms as a necessary tool for the multitasking that is parenting, when the device didn't even EXIST more than about 2 decades ago? Life is precious and there are no "do overs" if your child falls victim to crime. No one said parenting would be easy.
slyfox October 10, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Well stated. You are the definition of a *parent*. In my eyes anyway. Besides, never mind about those that become enraged - seems if your opinion differs you become a target. Those angry people are the very same who insist *they* are better parents. Much anger. And they call themselves good parents? Funny, huh? Peace...
Beth October 10, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I didn't know about the white box truck roaming Emmaus and Macungie-was the information made public? At least today, we have Megan's Law and know who the convicted offenders are. Not to say there aren't unconvicted offenders lurking-but there is much more awareness these days. And, of course, parenting isn't easy-it's the hardest thing I know I will ever do in my life-and it never ends. I do feel that there is a point at which children need to be given responsibilities and we as parents need to give them all the tools we can in which to do so. They will make some poor choices along the way-and hopefully only have to make that bad choice once to learn their lesson. I won't let my 6 year old daughter run around the neighborhood by herself, but at the same time, I don't want to bring her up in a world of paranoia either. Dropping a 11 or 12 year old off at practice is a lot different than dropping a 5 year old off at practice. And, in choosing activities for children to participate in, how it fits into your families lifestyle should be taken into consideration. It comes down to, what works best, what are you comfortable with and, of course, what will be the safest thing for your child? A cell phone at the age of 10 might work for some kids, while not for others. Everyone has a different way to "parent" and this is a great forum for folks to discuss their ways. I don't know that any can be considered "better" or "worse", it's just their way.
Motherof1 October 10, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Yes, the box truck was made public- on this site as a matter of fact. The predators started in Upper Saucon and after they knew they had been spotted and flagged, they immediately migrated to Emmaus and Macungie. They were bold when they hit Macungie, at one point attempting to snatch kids from a front lawn. Consider starting a neighborhood watch if you don't already have one and coordinate monthly meetings with your local police so they can update and advise you on how to keep the family safe- neighborhood watches are also good for daytime burglaries which are occurring much more often in this bad economy. Criminals even burglarize when you ARE home, they are slick. A FEW townships require solicitors to register with the police so you can call and check while they wait. Upper Saucon is one of the strictest. Never leave your garage door opener in a car parked outside, or your keys in plain view in your home, or let a solicitor use the bathroom (to unlock the window) Sorry, I don't mean to preach. We try not to bring paranoia into the equation because kids DO need to enjoy their childhood. We haven't purchased a bullet-proof backpack- I offer that in case anyone thinks we are doomsday nut jobs. LOL :) I agree: giving children increasing responsibility is very important and at 12, having certain chores, completing homework, studying before play, caring for their things and never going on the computer unless one of us are around are the basics in my home.
Motherof1 October 10, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Since you asked, my undergraduate degree from F&M is in child developmental psychology and my Masters degree is in the law. I have been conducting child custody trials for more than 20 years and have seen enough evidence of bad parenting to last me 2 lifetimes. I was a "helicopter mom" at one time: when my son was battling cancer from the age of 4 months to 1 year. You think parenting 2,3, or 4 relatively healthy, active kids is hard? Try parenthood with a child who has stage 3 neuroblastoma on for size and walk just one mile in my high heels. I am by no stretch of the imagination a perfect parent, nor did I ever profess to be. I don't "need" to be at soccer practice; I want to be there. Childhood is a temporary condition and kids grow up fast. Blink and you will miss it. When I can't break away from the demands of the office, I don't go. I envy stay-at-home moms because their kids get more potential access to them than kids of working moms do. I enjoy the unpredictability and fast pace of the game of soccer and the travel team thrives when there is encouragement from the parents on the sidelines. It is particularly helpful when gearing up to play Lehigh Valley United, or the Parkland soccer machine. I think that's what the experts refer to as "positive reinforcement", but hey, what do I know. Now bring on the lawyer jokes, take your best shot. I guarantee you I know thousands more than you do. Now THAT comment was sanctimonious of me- my bad! :)
Vincent Lynn October 10, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Motherof1 - I am very sorry to hear of your son's battle with cancer and am happy to hear that he is now doing well and even excelling! Again you are pompous enough to pass judgment. My children: One sick enough to have missed half of 3rd grade, now old enough to enter the military to serve and protect our country. One who has played travel sports,entering into national competitions, traveling the country and always accompanied by a parent. Of our three, some have been involved in choruses, orchestras plays and musicals and high school sports. At least one and usually all family members have been present at all major events and most practices. We have had plenty of trials and tribulations along the way but we have managed to raise good kids....Kids who had cell phones. Cellphones: It is a personal decision. Stop disparaging people. You know what is best for your family. Stop pretending that your Degrees allows you to know what's best for mine. I think I am very accurate with my previous one-paragraph (Blink) assessment of you. I judged you based on your very insensitive and bragging tone. The way you speak to other parents - the way you think you know it all. You might have the BA and useless Law degree, but it sounds like you are not learning from the experiences of your years of trials. You are very arrogant and preachy. Tone down your attitude and lighten up. If not, you will probably end up driving away the people that you love. Wait till he is a teen!
Tolstoy October 10, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Mother of One, if your intent was not to offend, you should likely consider your approach in the future. Commentary such as yours comes off as sanctimonious and judgemental, which is ultimately divisive and alienating to women instead of bringing them together as a community. The woman you directed your response to is a mother of multiple children who has handled four VERY SMALL children with more grace and love than many mothers of singletons, and is one of the most caring, involved parents I know. As to your comment about phones- I got my second child a phone at age 7. Yes seven. Why? I was living in Danville at the JW Children's Hospital while my oldest underwent aggressive, extended (8 months) treatment for cancer. We ultimately lost her. You say "Try parenthood with a child who has stage 3 neuroblastoma on for size and walk just one mile in my high heels." I have, and without the luxury of having only one child. I am a mother of four. I have brought a child through cancer treatment, strokes, infections and ultimately a cruel death; I have an autistic child who requires more attention than even the average five year old and has made amazing progress, a 4 year old, and my now 14 year old. That 14 year old, BTW, is the one who had her first phone at 7. She is now balancing not only HS but orchestra, competitive band, community involvement and a seat on the board of the conservative Jewish movement's southern states youth organization. She is a highly sought after babysitter
Tolstoy October 10, 2012 at 10:59 PM
I don't care what your (professional) experience is (I have credentials to be proud of as well), there is no excuse for judging people you do not know and thereby fueling the damage done to community. Instead of using your experience to attack, it wold be much better put to use with positive advocacy and esteem building interactions, no? The fact is a parent has a right to buy a phone when they choose, or to drop off at practice when they deem it safe, or to let a child walk to school (not all of us live in areas that are rural enough to require a bus, nor are they provided in greater suburban America) without being judged. Yes, I have walked in your shoes- and I have chosen to try to ease the path for others instead of put boulders amidst it. You should consider the same.
Motherof1 October 11, 2012 at 12:38 AM
Hey Tolstoy, I gave my educational background only because Vincent Lynn inquired as to what it was. A direct response to a direct question. You did see that, didn't you? I don't care what my profession is, either. I thought this was a forum for people to give their opinions as to what age when it is appropriate to give a minor child a cell phone. I did. I also dug a little deeper, to try to expose and explore the broader implications the topic presents. I am now being attacked for having a strong opinion and defending it. I have been called sanctimonious and pious. I have been accused of attacking a mom. I have been criticized as someone being out of touch specifically because I have only 1 child and presumably loads of free time on my hands. You did read that, didn't you? Were those not judgments? I have judged no one here as I do not know any of these parents personally. I have been critical of certain behaviors (not people) and please forgive me, for I am taking my cue from the judiciary. I am focusing on the best interests of the child, not the parent. This is the standard by which these parents would be judged if any of them ever disagree with each other to the point they wind up in a courtroom. I am perfectly fine with other parents disagreeing with my opinion. Good for them. Good for you, too. Honest, rigorous debate is what makes this America. I suspect you may be a Democrat. If I am correct, I also suspect you may be having a bad week.
Tolstoy October 11, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Yawn. Actually I am not a democrat. Nor am I a GOP fan. Too divisive, both of them, preferring to throw stones instead of taking action, preferring ineffectual pandering to work and feasible solutions. Come to think of it, as you seem to enjoy what you perceive as insulting strangers I would bet you identify strongly with one of the parties. Can't complain about the week; 85 degrees, a happy, healthy family, and nothing going wrong at the moment; bless your little heart for thinking of it, I hope yours is the same.
Motherof1 October 11, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Tolstoy, I just read the post about your child. I truly apologize, for I read the last one first, then made dinner, then read the top, instead of reading top down. You clearly know what devastation childhood cancer brings to a family. No one can really understand unless they go through it. I was defensive with that other parent because it appeared they were passing a snap judgment on me for having only 1 child. I hope you are healing from your family's tremendous loss. I try to live by the motto that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. I also believe that children choose us before they are born and I believe your oldest chose you because you have the unique qualities your child knew they'd need. Although my child survived, I am still in a healing process because I feel I got robbed of certain things other parents can take for granted, like giving a baby a bubble bath, which you know you can't do when they have a central port. My son now has A.D.H.D.; C.H.O.P. says it's from the chemotherapy in infancy; he has pervasive developmental delay and speech delay. I do the Saucon Valley Relay for Life each year and my son walks the survivor's lap and loves to give hugs and hope to the older folks waging their battles with cancer. I'm still not getting my son a cell phone, but the only judgment I'm passing on you here today is that God only gives us what we can handle and He clearly trusts you with some awesome responsibilities. I am truly humbled.
careless fills October 11, 2012 at 01:37 AM
as a former coach, i didn't care (or even necessarily want) parents to stick around at practices, just be on time to pick kids up. i think most coaches, including my kids' coaches, felt the same way
Tolstoy October 11, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Okay Mother of 1- I just saw that above. I doubt that poster was judging you, she is one of the least judgemental people around. In fact, what may have happened here is a result of what I spoke of- no community among mothers. Thus we all feel judged all too often, and perhaps act in haste. Every morning I am appalled when I read the news, at the constant stream of child abuses, kidnappings, murders, bullying. There are days it really gets to me. And what I really believe is that most parents, whether they are right or not, really do want to do right by their children. It would be so much easier to dialogue, form bonds, support eachother, if the whole "I'm better than you" mentality would cease to dominate. We can all gets phones whenever we want or never, breast or bottle, vax or not, work or SAHM, Gluten free or not, and still love our kids equally (some of these as I'm sure I'm sure you know are rampantly discussed, debated and all too often judged in the autism community especially). I thank you for your reply, and I am, truly, so happy that yourself and your son get to do that relay together. WIshes for him to grow strong and well, and you to find peace with what you missed, and the innocence you lost. It's a long road, but you will get there.


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