Mommy, I want one!
May 21, 2006 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Cell phones for elementary school kids? My kid wants one, I don't see the need. Am I missing something here?

My daughter is in 5th grade. Most of her friends (all around 11 years old or so) have been getting cell phones. This is apparently the "cool currency" of the moment. I'm assuming that this is the result of those family plans that let you add additional lines for about $10/month. Of course, that doesn't take into account the potential for lost or broken phones, etc.

I just don't get it. My kid does not need a cell phone. Her school does not allow the use of cell phones. She's not old enough to be left on her own, and I can't think of a situation when she wouldn't be with a responsible adult. What am I missing here? To clarify, my spouse and I have not been reluctant to supply our kids with techno toys, or things when they need them: Gameboys, computers, etc. We're not cheap, and our attitude has always been to provide firm limits. Our older daughter who is in high school received a cell phone when she started to go places without us - babysitting, etc. In other words, when we saw the need, we supplied.

When I've had the opportunity to observe her 11-year old friends with their phones, they've used them to call boys, giggle, and hang up. In other words, stuff that they could easily do on land lines in their homes. To be honest, this is striking me as yet another instance of allowing access to things way too early. Many of my daughter's friends are allowed to do things that we say "no" about : being dropped off at the mall and wandering unattended, watching adult TV shows like "South Park", renting and watching R-rated movies- their parents do not say "no" presumably because it's easier to say "yes." (yes, that was a judgement, sorry)

I am willing to change my views if I can think of a good reason to do this, so am I missing something here? How young did you/your kids receive cell phones and why?
posted by Flakypastry to Technology (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, the usual parental benefit of a cellphone is to ease children into independance. Surely your daughter is allowed to be alone occasionally, say to go the park or some other neighborhood hangout. You could let her go and make her call you every now and then to check in. She learns to be responsible, you can give her a little more responsibility.

Think of the cellphone as a sort of leash for your kid... that's how most parents I know use it.
posted by phrontist at 7:27 AM on May 21, 2006

I just took the cellphone away from my 15 year old daughter. She had gotten past the giggling and hanging up on boys stage and was now using it to text message boys at night, take ridiculous pictures of herself to post on her myspace and live journal accounts and basically to screw around. Rarely did she use it to call home and ask for a ride to the mall or if she could go spend the night with a friend.

FWIW, I also made her delete her myspace and live journal accounts as well. She is back to being without any technology more complicated than the tv remote-consequently she has remembered that she likes to read.

Personally, I think 10 is too young, but then again my daughter grew up overnight and took the wrong path there for a while. I think we just gave her too much freedom and trust because we felt we could reach her at any time, in the end it was too much and she made bad decisions.

I'm sorry for the derail, I just thought maybe my situation might help in your decision making.
posted by hollygoheavy at 7:34 AM on May 21, 2006

I'm not sure the question is on of need - hey, I really don't need mine, although it is handy sometimes I'm sure I could get by with just a landline (and email). So why not let her have one? If she uses it just for chatting to her friends why is this differant to letting her have a computer? This seems to be very differant to R-rated movies, to which she is probably too young to interpret as an adult.
posted by badrolemodel at 7:35 AM on May 21, 2006

You could try loaning her your cell phone as a test. If she uses it just to call boys an giggle, then you know that you made the right choice not to her one. Otherwise, if she has independent activities like sports or play practice it could be useful so that she can let you know when to pick her up.
posted by Alison at 7:36 AM on May 21, 2006

Please don't give an 11 year old a mobile phone. There really is no need. Parents who say "yes" to everything shouldn't be parents. Also, I know that younger kids in my local area with phones became the victim of muggings by older kids, for their phones which they shouldn't have in the first place.
posted by Orange Goblin at 7:38 AM on May 21, 2006

The only thing I can think of is the "she's not old enough to be left on her own." I was acutely aware of laws about babysitting and staying on one's own when I was growing up, and in my state it's legal to leave a kid alone if they were 9 or older (and at 12 they can legally babysit). So other kids might be doing things without adults.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:43 AM on May 21, 2006

We got phones for our kids after they entered high school and only then if they were involved in extracurricular activities (sports, theater, etc) that would necessitate staying in contact or telling us when they needed picked-up.
Giving an 11-year-old a cell phone, though, just wouldn't happen in our house.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:44 AM on May 21, 2006

They have the "cell phone for kids" now. I think it only has four buttons on it and you preprogram the numbers. I think it's called "Firefly" via Cingular.
posted by pencroft at 7:52 AM on May 21, 2006

My plan is to provide a cell phone, locked so that it can call only a couple of numbers - home, parent's cell phone, 911.


This gives the advantages (from your perspective) of having a cell phone - you can make her keep it on, and check on her, and make her call home - without the disadvantages.

Perhaps that is a solution that you can apply to ease her into cell phone usage.
posted by jellicle at 7:55 AM on May 21, 2006

It doesn't sound like she needs a cell phone. Kids who constantly play with their phones don't do much but annoy the people around them. I didn't get a cell phone until I was in high school and started driving.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:17 AM on May 21, 2006

A lot of the kids at the elementary school where I volunteer have cell phones. I honestly can't tell you why -- they do have a measure of independence, but that independence doesn't include going places that are far away from telephones/trusted adults.

The 5th graders are good about keeping the phones off during the day and not messing with them, but it's like that sense just goes out the window when they hit middle school. My best friend is a middle school teacher and she confiscates phones and portable gaming devices from 6th graders by the truckload. At that age it's just another toy to show off and they have a hard time resisting the temptation to do it in inappropriate places. I think you're right to wait until she truly needs it.
posted by Marit at 8:22 AM on May 21, 2006

While I think it's fair to say there's no need for a cellphone at her age, may I suggest that as with most things for someone approaching adolescence, this is a matter of fitting in.

Her friends have phones. She does not.

I think there's a difference between things like R-rated movies and cell phones. One is content while the other is technology. And stepping back for a moment to consider the maladies of cellphones being suggested above, it seems to me that the problem isn't the phone but the people on the other side of it. That is, if your concern is that she'll turn into a camgirl or something. Keep in mind, these are probably the same people she hangs out with in person and at school.

If you are concerned about the conversations that may go on over a cell behind your back, and this is a question of limiting the amount of interactions she can have with the outside world away from your supervision, then fine (again remember, you're fighting an uphill battle as these are her friends we're actually talking about not the phone). But if the issue is why can't she just stick to the landline, then you're missing the whole point of why she wants the phone: to fit in and have more independence.
posted by drpynchon at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2006

You could give her a prepaid Tracfone (Wal-Mart, Radio Shack, etc); they're $20 and airtime is 20 cents a minute. The advantages here:

(1) When the minutes run out, they're gone. You can use that as a form of allowance.

(2) Tracfone doesn't keep any billing informtion, so there will be no surprises on your cell phone bill like a $170 call to Zimbabwe.

(3) Tracfones do not have the "cool" factor of a standard phone but will give her the functionality of what she wants.

(4) In general, a cell phone will also unwittingly slip her with a "leash" (if you will) that makes it easier for you to regulate her time away from home.

However they're robust enough for me to use to run my business (I refuse to deal with big carrier contracts, my decision only reinforced by them becoming lapdogs for NSA wiretaps). Tracfones are cost efficient for light use but NOT for heavy use; then again if cost is a concern I'd recommend no cell phone at all.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2006

There's nothing wrong with setting firm limits with your child. I find it odd that so many people on here just buy into the consumerist mentality that says if it's there, we should buy and consume it.

You are right in thinking that she doesn't need a cell phone. As a parent, and a school teacher, I've seen SECOND GRADERS with cell phones. The last cell phone incident was a nightmare. A student left the cellphone on the bus and an older student from another school who used the same bus service sold the phone to someone else. The new owner sent 400 text messages in one day and then reactivated the account and added a bunch of features to the plan. The phone company didn't require a pin, password, nothing. The plan was billed to a business account, which was only kept full when necessary, so of course it was overdrawn and even more money was lost. The moral of the story is be careful and ready to add more complication to your life. It does happen and is highly possible that she'll lose it and something similar will happen.

Yes her friends have phones and she does not. So what. So she won't be the popular girl? I understand her desire, but you as a parent are not in any way obligated to give her what she "wants". You need to (and sounds like you're doing a great job at it) give her what she needs.

Being mildly unpopular is the best way to stay away from trouble :P
posted by allthewhile at 8:42 AM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

allthewhile, I heart you.

Being mildly unpopular is the best way to stay away from trouble is my new parenting mantra.

My two cents, as the mom of a 10-year old boy:

Anything small and techy is either going to be either
A. abused (because kids that young can't help themselves);
B. lost (we are on Game Boy #3) or
C. stolen (Game Boy #2 was stolen by a kid he considered a friend).

In the pantheon of things she is going to want just because "everyone has one," at age 10 I think a line should be drawn at the cell phone. Give in on something else that isn't such a disaster waiting to happen.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:03 AM on May 21, 2006

The other main contender(Beside the Firefly) in the children's phone market is the LG Migo, which also has some degree of GPS capability.

IIRC, the Firefly and the Migo both have pay-as-you-go plans, which might be a good idea to let you keep a grip on costs.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:19 AM on May 21, 2006

In the school I worked at (which was a middle school with kids older than yours), phones were only allowed on school premesis if they were kept turned off and in a locker. Even with this rule, every single day that I subbed there a phone went off at one point or another, or else one was reported lost/stolen. Most adults can't even manage to have them without irking people endlessly, and a kid is just going to be even more oblivious about social etiquette and where the line is drawn.

Also, even though your daughter isn't allowed to be out on her own unsupervised yet, by the time she is do you really want her conditioned to be able to walk around and talk without paying attention to her surroundings? Or driving while on the phone? Kids develop a sense of entitlement to new priveleges shockingly fast, and that can override other things you teach them later on.

My vote is that a child shouldn't have even a locked phone until they are in high school, and they should only have an unrestricted cell phone when they are old enough to sign the contracts and take on full responsibility for what is essentially a tool of communication and not a status symbol or a toy.
posted by hermitosis at 10:39 AM on May 21, 2006

Her friends have phones. She does not.

And? Is that it? Because that line of reasoning could get pretty expensive down the line, particularly when she turns 16 (or 17, depending on the state).

Like a car, a cellphone for a teenager is a luxury, not a necessity. When she's old enough to get a job, offer to get her a cellphone plan provided she pays for it (since she probably won't be able to get a contract at that age.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:58 AM on May 21, 2006

I'm not saying get her a phone because her friends have phones, people. I'm saying she wants a phone because her friends have phones, among other reasons.

It's your money, and it's up to you to decide how appropriate it is for her to be keeping up with the Jones's, but if you think this behavior is somehow unique to kids then you're kidding yourself. You're perfectly entitled to make a stand in particular to discourage materialism. But my hope would be that this a lesson one is conveying by example as opposed to simply setting boundaries.

Personally, I like the idea of finding a way to make her responsible for paying the bills for the phone and letting her have one once she can have a part-time job. But as far as whether or not she's too young or not shouldn't be determined by strangers on the internet. You're the best judge of her maturity, and certainly not all 11-year olds are equal.
posted by drpynchon at 11:16 AM on May 21, 2006

What allthewhile said, plus this, and I can't believe that I'm going to be the first person to say it (at 19):

I grew up (still *am* growing up, but that's beside the point) without a mobile phone until 9/11, when my mother promptly freaked out. I like to think of myself as normal. There's no reason for your daughter to have a phone just to fit in. In fact, she could end up being too cool for a phone and it'll just make her more popular. In any case, don't give your kid a phone till high school. Even then it's debatable.
posted by awesomebrad at 11:20 AM on May 21, 2006

cripe, i was in college before my parents allowed me to get a cellphone (and yes, i paid for it myself and for the bill every month).

i know most kids have cell phones these days. i guess parents get them to check up on the kids when they're out with friends (even with that other kid's parent).

do you feel the need to check in every half hour? do you trust your daughter not to lose/break the phone?
posted by misanthropicsarah at 11:22 AM on May 21, 2006

My daughter got a cell phone when she was thirteen and it gave me a lot of peace of mind. To the "don't give her one" crowd, I would say two things: 1. we don't know where the poster lives and what kind of circumstances the kid may find themselves in -- it is for those unexpected moments that a phone is handy, and 2. remember - in many places your chances of finding a pay phone is close to zero these days, unlike a decade or two ago....

The main benefit though was she could call me to say, I am going to stop for tea on the way home with gooberfriend and I wouldn't worry. I'm a single parent though, so maybe overly vigilant. I would say, ignore the possibly-false presumption that it is a materialistic desire on the part of the kid and make your own cost-benefit analysis.
posted by Rumple at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2006

you could make her buy a prepaid and use her allowance to buy more minutes. that way you don't have to pay for it and it may teach responsibility and what not.
posted by 29 at 12:58 PM on May 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I agree with drpynchon - this is a matter of fitting in, and while the idea of kids having cell phones may seem shocking now, in 10 years I'm sure babies will have the chips embedded in their necks and no one will bat an eye. Remember how pretentious it was for anybody (minus Asian businessmen) to have a cell phone in the early 90s?
This reminds me of the Nike sneakers fad when I was a kid. I didn't get any, not because my parents wanted to punish me by disallowing me from fitting in, but because as an immigrant family, we couldn't afford it. If you are a parent who can afford to get their daughter a cell phone though, I don't see how this would negatively impact your kid if you did what others have suggested - prepaid, have her paying for all or a portion of it using her allowance, etc.

Then again, I'm not a parent, just a college kid. So what do I know.
posted by Menomena at 1:09 PM on May 21, 2006

you could always get a cell phone tailored for kids... like the lg migo or any of the other models that are out... it only calls a few numbers which are all set by you the parent... thus giving you all the parental benefits of the cell phone and none of the drawbacks...
posted by MonkNoiz at 1:16 PM on May 21, 2006

I didn't get a cellphone until I could afford to pay for it from my job. My parents 'gave' me the right to use it by signing the contract, since I was under 18 at the time. Some of my friends still don't have cellphones. Yes, there were plenty of people that had them in middle school (I think elementry school was a bit too early for cells when I was in it, though), but in the end they didn't use it that much. That and we laughed at them behind their backs.

If anything, I'd say, get a second family cellphone and let your daughter use it when she has a specific reason to. Plus, if all her friends have one, she can just use theirs.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:04 PM on May 21, 2006

I got my son his first phone when he was 11 (end of fifth grade) so that I always knew where he was. The phone allowed him to call me if he wanted to go home with a friend, allowed him to do homework in the library without me searching all over the friggin' school for half an hour to find him. He's now in 8th grade and I find it INVALUABLE. I can always reach him to tell him if I'm late, he can always reach me to tell me if he's late. Last night he was at a bar mitvah party until 12:30am, I got lost picking him up, but we were in touch by phone the whole time so there wasn't any problem at all.

If you drive your kids all over, the phone is an enormous gift. If you don't drive them all over yet, you will and you will want your kid to have a phone. Fifth grade is not too early.

BTW my son never seems to have gone through any "call and giggle" phase. Maybe I'm just lucky, but he never lost his phone, it never broke. He's on his second phone only because we switched services (Middle school campus was "dropped call Land").
posted by johngumbo at 2:11 PM on May 21, 2006

If you're doing it so she fits in and you also want a prepaid, consider one from Virgin Mobile
posted by Mick at 2:12 PM on May 21, 2006

Oh, also add that my 8 yr old desperately wants a phone but will not get one until she needs one (that is, when I'm driving her all over town and I need to know where she is). She has my old phone that she keeps charged up and plays with as if it works. She likes having it since it gives her the feeling of having a phone but I don't have to pay for it.
posted by johngumbo at 2:14 PM on May 21, 2006

Here's the thing: kids have grown up in a world of mobile phones, while their parents remember a time when they didn't exist. So not having a phone -- and kids love playing with mobiles when they're little -- seems as irrational as denying them shoes.

In Britain, where pre-paid is the rule rather than the exception, it's turned into a way of teaching children how to use their money responsibly: use up your PAYG minutes over the weekend and you're stuck with a brick. Of course, that makes life trickier if you want them to have phones for emergencies.

I'm surprised that the phone companies haven't come up with a delineated family plan yet: one where you can limit 'credit' to a particular number (x minutes per week), but specify a few numbers that don't count towards it.
posted by holgate at 3:00 PM on May 21, 2006

11 seems sort of young for a cell phone. I'm 16, and most of my friends didn't get one until 8th or 9th grade. Most people borrowed their parent's phone or their friend's phone. People absolutely loan cell phones; if her friends have them she really doesn't need one to call home every once in a while. Wait until she's 13 or so and going to movies and stuff with her friends. When she has a social life that involves going places other than her friends' houses, then she might need a cell phone. In the end, though, this comes down to you thinking she doesn't need one and her thinking she does. Let her try and convince you, to see if she comes up with good arguments, but this seems like a parenting decision that only you can make.
posted by MadamM at 3:29 PM on May 21, 2006

Thank you for all of the perspectives.

I posted the question in order to gain some additional insight into others' experiences. One of the hard parts about being a parent is that the environment changes so quickly. As MadamM noted above, it was just a few short years ago that kids didn't get cell phones until they were well into high school. Like other gadgets, cell phones are getting pushed down to younger and younger kids. I also wonder whether the cell phone companies are shoving the market in that direction with the introduction of the 'tween phones posted above by some posters.

And drpynchon, I actually took your initial post to heart - I am acutely aware of the fact that she is missing out on something cool that her friends have - that's part of the angst here. To say "But as far as whether or not she's too young or not shouldn't be determined by strangers on the internet. " misses the point of the post entirely. No one is making up my mind for me, but I'd be remiss as a parent to just have a knee-jerk reaction and say no without understanding whether others have found it to be valuable.

It's notable that there have been very few positive, and primarily negative reactions to the idea.
posted by Flakypastry at 5:55 PM on May 21, 2006

What Rumple and johngumbo said. My son got a cel phone at 11 - among other things, that's when I disconnected the landline, so our two cel phones are the only phones we have. He's 14 now and misuse hasn't been an issue; in fact, it's been great and the phone has not been a problem. Yes it got lost at a friends' house once and then found, no extra calls were made. Yes, the dog ate it once and once he dropped it into a cup of coffee in the car (sigh) but I pay $5 extra a month for replacement insurance, and so it's all been okay. I can always find him and he can always find me, which in the peripatetic world of a 14 year old who has skateboard and will travel, is invaluable.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:04 PM on May 21, 2006

Here (Tokyo), kids get phones from kindergarden and up, it is just part of the lifestyle. Initially, they are for GSP locators for parents (one click and I know where my child is, or rather, where my child's phone is:) ). Which is handy since children still travel to school on their own in this relatively safe city.

Phones are mostly used to send text messages to each other, or to call home when needed. The phones have a list of phone numbers they can call, or be called by.

At some point you have to decide when the childs independence begins, and go without the locator. Presumably the child will bring it up one day.

Here it is only natural that kids have phones, and it would seem strange to not have one. The social problem with phones is very low here.
posted by lundman at 7:04 PM on May 21, 2006

Don't get her the phone. Your reasoning is totally logical and sensible.

Your parenting style reminds me a lot of my parents' styles. If your daughter is anything like me, she is likely to pitch a fit now but be grateful later that you are the kind of parent who has enough confidence not to bow to societal pressures.
posted by frecklefaerie at 12:04 PM on May 22, 2006

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