Teens and mobile phones

Every child wants one. It’s cool to have one. They’re certainly – undeniably – convenient. But, as parents, there are so many reasons we are cautious about our children having one.

How can parents deal with their teenager’s (or tween’s) desires for mobile telephones? Should children have them at all, and if so, when? And what rules should apply to possession and use of the phone?

Do our tweens/teens need a phone?

I was one of those dads who resisted the ever-growing pressure to give my eldest daughter a telephone. We kept our children close by. We knew where they were going, who they were with, and when they would be home. We lived in a ‘safe’ neighbourhood. There was no need for a phone and the extra expenses and risks that go along with one.

One Saturday morning, my 12-year-old called me. She was scared. After spending some time with her friends (who lived about 800 metres from our home), she was walking home and realised she was being followed by two men in a white ute. After walking up a random driveway, she rang me from her mum’s phone (which we had given her to borrow, ‘just in case’). I raced out the door, and retrieved her, and saw no sign of those who had followed her. But it was enough.

My answer to the question, ‘Do they need a phone’, is a clear ‘Yes’. Of course, no one ‘needs’ a phone, but the convenience, security, and peace of mind they offer is valuable.

But… how they get that phone is a little more complicated.

When do tweens/teens need a phone?

The timing of when our children need a phone is complicated, and there is no simple answer. It really depends. Why do they require a phone? How will it be used? When? Why? And with whom?

Remember, you are about to enter a negotiation that will not cease until your child takes on full responsibility for her own phone, and this may be some years away. Be prepared to set limits you feel are appropriate.

Once the ‘need’ for the phone is established, the following points should be discussed with your child, perhaps over a period of a few days:

  • Who will be responsible for the costs associated with the phone? Will it be entirely the parents’ responsibility? Or your child’s? Or will you split the costs so that you cover the calls to ‘approved’ numbers and your child pays for all other calls? What about text messaging?
  • What happens if the phone is lost? Who will replace the phone? Often, parents come to value the safety and convenience that come with their children having phones.
  • What kind of phone is necessary? Will a phone with connectivity be appropriate, or is an older, plainer phone more suitable, even though it’s totally uncool?
  • Are you and your child aware of the risks associated with having a phone that can take photos, or that can receive video or picture messaging? At the appropriate age (probably around 13-14 years) she needs to be made aware of the dangers of sexting, and the pressure that can be placed on her by peers.
  • What will you and your child do about phone use if appropriate limits are disregarded? For example, if your child runs up excessive bills that she cannot pay, who will then be responsible? And what will happen with the use of the phone?
  • Many teens find their parent’s calls to them to be intrusive. How will you negotiate with your child to ensure when you need to call her, she will answer rather than ignore you or simply text you back to tell you she’s busy?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Each family and circumstance is different. The following three examples of how some families have dealt with the telephone issue may be useful.

  • One family purchased a ‘family’ phone to be used by whichever child was going to be in a situation where a phone would be useful. If more than one phone was needed, a parent’s phone was used for the brief time that it was required. This ensured that phones were only used at times that it was absolutely necessary.
  • Another family provided their children with phones and agreed to cover previously agreed upon costs. Once costs went above the predetermined amount, the child was responsible for the costs. Failure to cover those costs meant the phone was withheld until bills were paid.
  • One mother allowed her children to use a basic phone (no Internet) that she provided them, but from 4pm until 7am, the phone was not available for their use if they were at home. This ensured they could keep their bills under control, and stay focused on assignments and other school work or activities.

There are dozens of alternative ways of dealing with the ‘phone issue’ with your kids. They will want one, and at some point it will become more useful for them to have one than for them to not have one. But once they have one, use of their phone will become one of the more nuanced and complicated issues that you will deal with. It will require ongoing consideration, discussion, and flexibility as circumstances change and your child increases in independence.

This article was written for Kidspot by Justin Coulson, Ph. D. Justin is a relationships and parenting expert, author and father of five children. Find him at happyfamilies.com.au.

9 Comments

  1. dawnblyth 03/07/2019 at 11:18 pm

    Having an almost 11yr old boy who is now going out on his bike with his friends to the local park to play, I often wonder whether he needs a phone or not. It is a tricky one for me – I don’t know whether giving him another device is needed at 11 but I can see the benefits to him having a phone if he were to go out with his friends.

  2. Bevik1971 03/07/2019 at 9:54 am

    I’m really not sure about the phone debate to be honest. My son who is now 26 got his first phone at age 13, I was a single parent and felt it would be good for him to have one. It was prepaid and really only for contacting me if required etc. I now have a 6 year old daughter and I don’t like her using our cellphones, she gets some very limited time playing some apps eg Cartoon Network games but not that often. We have explained why we don’t like her using them and she understands. I’m really not sure if and when she will get her own cellphone, we will just have to play it by ear.

  3. Alezandra 02/07/2019 at 10:33 pm

    Can’t believe we now need articles like this – guides for buying a mobile phone for tweens and teens. How generations have changed. I don’t have a tween yet and I sometimes dread what kind article we as parents we need to watch out for or prepare for…technology is progressing really fast…before you know it we might even see flying cars — now that’s a guide I would like to find out more about. ūüėõ

  4. MuddledUpMolly 01/07/2019 at 8:30 pm

    This is an interesting read and definitely something we have thought of as our oldest is now 9 years old. He loves the idea of getting one and has mentioned it on and off over the years but I have been quick to point out to him that it is expensive to keep a phone (monthly charge) and he was not as keen. I think 13 onwards is a good age as they start becoming more independent but I guess it sort of depends on how many of his friends get one before then. I like one of the comments about hubby turning off the wifi for certain time periods, great idea!

  5. Jen_Wiig 01/07/2019 at 2:46 pm

    All 3 of my boys have phones (4,10,13) my younger 2 dont have sim cards in them it is used purely for pokemon go and youtube… But when mr 10 starts intermediate next year and will be teavelling by train and abit of walking between stations and school/home he will get a sim card. We have gone with skinny so its afgordable for all of us… Mr 13 has a fully functioning phone and has since he was 11 again for same reason mr 10 will have one… He is now at the age where he eaens pocket money so we pay $5 a week for his call and txt plan and if he wants data for gakes, social media and youtube he buys it with his pocket money. Theyve been lucky in sense thst i as their mum have worked for a tech company so often upgrade my phones so they’ll get the old one and usualky they are near new… But if we were in a situation where had to buy it would be a more high end 1 because of reliabilty, 2 because of contents insurnace 3 because overall you wilk spend less on a higher end phone than a cheaper one that’ll maybe last a year or so and be dated and no longer supported by android or apple for secuirty and software updates… Call me mad but i love technology and dont mond that my boys enjoy it too in a healthy way… Phones go in a basket at home when they get home from school and then they get an hoir before bed to “jam” on them. At both of their schools same rules apply they turn them off and hand them into basket thats then taken to office and locked up for the day.

  6. SarahBlair 01/07/2019 at 11:15 am

    I told my kids that they can get their first phone when they are 13 and have generally stuck to this, when my son started a school in a different town we gave him a phone as we saw that it was important for him to contact us if he missed the bus or something like that. My husband has set times on the wifi to turn off the kids wifi on there phones at bed time so there is no spending all night online!

  7. Shorrty4life1 30/06/2019 at 3:34 pm

    This was a great read. Very interesting and informative in parts. Me and my husband have decided to not to let our children have a cellphone until the age of 13 as then they are old enough to realise it’s more of a safety device not just to be used willy nilly.

  8. kymmage 30/06/2019 at 3:09 pm

    When my oleldest child headed to intermediate is when we gave her a phone for her use. This is because we work quite far from the school and we wanted to make sure that she could contact us for safety reasons. We see a future where she might bus into town or visit friends and we want her to have that freedom but to also be able to tell us where she is as well. It is a decision we all have to make and there are pros and cons on both sides. For us, she is not using the phone for social media. Her friends don’t have social media. And we have easy access to the phone whenever we want.

  9. Micht 30/06/2019 at 2:13 pm

    Im a bit unsure… we are far from that phone stage but the longer i can hold off ..i will… my parents always dropped and picked me up form wherever i had to go and stayed with me most times…there was no need for one cos they were always there…i may very well be the same kind of parent… so will have to wait and see…it is also a new day and age we live in with easier ways to get in harms way… so some thing to consider i think…

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