When should my child have a cell phone?

Ask The Experts by David M. Benson, MSW, LMSW, ACSW

Q:  When should a child/teen be able to carry a cell phone?

A:  As a therapist, this is a question that is commonly asked by parents of children all ages.  Technology has certainly changed since the days we as parents grew up.  “Back in the day,” it was not uncommon to see people driving in their vehicles with a large cellular phone with a long cord attached to the cigarette lighter outlet.  Now days, some cars have “hands free” capabilities, in which one does not even have to touch their paper-thin “phone.”

Technology has changed so much and so fast that most parents cannot keep up with all of the advances.  In fact, it is not uncommon for our children to be more knowledgeable than us parents about computers, smart phones and all of the other electronic gadgets available.  I wonder if I am the only person that gets so confused just by walking through Best Buy and glancing at some of the latest electronics.

I-Phones, I-Pads, I-Touch, Blackberry’s, Androids…the list goes on, what are these?  Cell phones just are not what they used to be when we grew up.  Nowadays, these smart phones have instant access to the internet, movies, games, instant messaging, texting and many other features.  Being a child or a teenager in today’s world is arguably much different than when us parents grew up.  Is this all necessary?  At what age should a child/teen obtain one of these devices?  The answer may not be as simple as one would think.  The following is a list of criteria that many parents use to determine if their child/teen “needs” or deserves a smart phone.

  • Maturity: How mature is your child/teen?
  • Trust:  Can your child/teen be trusted to use the phone within the limits of the cell phone plan?
  • Responsibility:  Can your child/teen be responsible to not text and drive, not use the phone during school, church, or other events when it is inappropriate to use the phone?  Has your child/teen demonstrated responsibility at school and at home?
  • Convenience:  Many parents provide their child/teen cell phones for their own convenience.  Today, there are many families in which both parents are employed.  Cell phones make it easier to keep track of our children’s whereabouts, as well as constant updates to plans changing, etc…
  • Safety:  Cell phones are also helpful in case of an emergency, which makes it much easier to contact police, medical care, or any other situation where the child/teen could be in danger.

I have also found in my practice that many parents use the “tracking device” feature on their cell phones for those who do not fully trust their child/teen.  This program can track where the person/phone is within a few feet from where the person is. 

Parents whom are comfortable and confident with their child/teen’s level of maturity and responsibility, should feel at ease in providing their loved one with a cell phone.

David M. Benson, MSW, LMSW, ACSW is a licensed clinical therapist with over 15 years of experience and has been in private practice for 7 years in Grosse Pointe Farms. Contact him at EastShore Counseling Services (313) 447-5779, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   or visit www.DavidBensonTherapy.com for more details. David Benson is a member of The Family Center's Association of Professionals.

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