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Does a 10-year-old Need a Cell Phone?

February 10, 2011 by

Does a 10-year-old need a cell phone? I get that he WANTS one. I get that “EVERYONE” in his grade has one but him. But do we really need to buy him a phone? To me, a phone is a necessity when you need to reach someone. If you are always at school or always at home, who do you necessarily need to be calling? To him, it is a cool toy to show off to friends. It is a status symbol.
When I was a kid, we did not have cell phones. I did not have a cell phone until I was in my thirties, and I never felt the need for one. I finally got one after my car broke down. (Luckily I was on a main road and was able to get to a pay phone, but it made me realize I could have been stranded on the road with 2 small children and no way to get help.) Of course that was what we dealt with until cell phones were available, but now that we had access to them, why not take advantage of it! At first I decided to only use it for emergencies and barely even remembered that I had one. Then one day I was picking up something at the store for my mother-in-law and they did not have the brand she wanted. I whipped out my cell phone and  called to ask what replacement she wanted. It was an amazing feeling: I can call anyone from anywhere! Woohoo!

Okay, so that was for me, an adult!  But at what age should a child have a cell phone? My oldest son was 16 before he got a phone. He was not yet driving and he frequently took the bus to the mall to meet friends. I always had him call me from a pay phone or borrow a friend’s cell when he got there so I knew he made it safely. We finally decided he needed a phone. He had strict rules about how many minutes he could use and he was very careful and responsible. His brother, age 10 at that time, could not wait until he could get a phone, but we established that 16 was the rule.

Fast forward a year and a half, when we had to rethink our “rule.” At 11 1/2 this child had such a phobia of zombies (my blog post about that is coming soon) that he would not enter the house after school if nobody was home. This was after coming into the house alone already for over a month. His brother wasn’t home from school for 45 minutes after he got home, and he refused to enter the house even when it was freezing outside. My children have always called me at work when they get home from school so I know they’ve arrived safely. We decided that a cell phone was a necessity so that I knew my son had arrived “almost home,” at least to the porch. (I even spoke with my older son to explain why we felt that his brother did not need to wait until he was 16 like he did. He totally understood. It is amazing how accepting he is of his brother’s anxieties.)

Next in line is my 10-year-old stepson. He wants a phone in the worst way. In the past he has stolen his brothers’ phones to play with. His mom gave him her old phone after it was deactivated. We found out he took it to school and pretended it was a working phone. Kids on the bus found out it was not working and took it from him. We understand how phones these days are status symbols, used basically as toys. We certainly do not want him ostracized or bullied for not having a phone, but this is not a responsible child. His belongings frequently get lost or even given away to children at school as a way for him to make friends. On top of that, there is no need for him to have a phone. His mom does not always agree with us on many issues regarding her son, but on this one she wholeheartedly agreed!

We have all explained to him our reasons for our decision, yet he is still very disappointed. We understand that so many children his age have phones and he is the one who has to deal with the “consequences” every day at school. This is just a lesson he will need to learn, like many others in his life as he gets older and his social network gets wider. Growing up we all saw other children with items we coveted. Even now my boys do not have the game systems their friends have. But somehow, they got over that much easier than our youngest has been able to get over not having a cell phone.

This was not a decision we took lightly, weighing all angles.  We all make decisions that impact our children, whether it is because they are not yet ready for an item, it is an inappropriate request or we do not have the financial means. My friends have girls who want to wear “older” clothing, or make-up at ages their moms feel they are not ready for.  (Although, they do have cell phones!)

What do you think? I’d love to hear from other parents who have made similar decisions.

Emmie is the mom of two boys, ages 13 and 19, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. She is remarried and her husband also has two boys, ages 10 and 13. Emmie says, “There is always something happening at our house!”

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