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

Posted February 10, 2011 by

Photo of emmie

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.


I am a mom of two boys, ages 16 and 22, both with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. I have remarried and my husband has 2 boys, ages 13 and 16. The 13 year old lives with us, and has some behavioral problems and attachment issues. There is always something happening at our house!

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  1. Patato Turtle Report

    I think kids need cell phones cause if parents were kids in our generation, they would understand why we want and NEED a cell phone.

  2. BusyMomJulie Report

    I am the mother of two beautiful little girls. I have been battleing the oldest (10 almost 11) for two years already over this cell phone topic. Many of my friends have tried talking me into getting a cell phone for her since she is getting older. Their argument is there are more dangers and some of them even try guilting me saying that I want bad things to happen to my children since I don’t want them to have a cell phone. This is most definetly NOT true. I have known many children bringing cell phones to school and getting them confinscated. Also, I grew up poor, am still poor, and am fine to this day without a cell phone. I don’t want my children to be bullied for being less fortunate than other kids at school. I also don’t want her to become spoiled due to my guilt when we don’t have the money for spoiling. She is very demanding so she can fit in which I understand that desire. I will not pay for something that will create issues at school, that I don’t have money for, that would get lost or broken in a few days, or that is not a neccessity yet. I love my daughters and when they are older and going with friends more often without my supervision, I will get them a pre-paid cell phone. Until then, I feel it’s a good idea to make them wait.

  3. Jay Report

    Cell phones are very important to keep in touch with your children. You want to give your children privacy and let them learn life experiences on their own, but you as a parent have the responsibility to protect your children. There are programs available, like the one I use, Mousemail that will forward threatening messages to the parent. That way you are able to give your child independence, but also keep a tab on what your child is getting in to.

  4. BornThisWay Report

    Some people might have an issue with this, but I think in some cases, a 10 year old does need a cell phone and I think its up to the parents to decide it. I do recommend that parents put their kids on a prepaid plan so they can make it affordable on them and have lots of control options that won’t be hampered by a contract. Both my sister and I have our daughters on Straight Talk prepaid, sold at Walmart, since it was a VERY affordable price for the unlimited service we figured a 16 and 14 year olds would use – $45 for a month’s service with no extra fees.

  5. Garden Fairy Report

    As a teacher, I thank you for not giving your children phones. Students are constantly texting each other instead of doing whatever they should be in class. And yes, I have seen this as early as 2nd grade.

    For me, I think my kids will get a cell phone once they start doing sports and we have to arrange for after-game pickup. I don’t know if we will put them on our plan or a pay-as-you-go plan. Part of that would depend on the kid.

    Since our daughter is only 5 and we haven’t had any foster kids placed with us yet, we thankfully have a while to figure this out.

  6. Marcus @ Parent Notes Report

    I agree with your position. I can’t see why a child would need a mobile phone for day to day use. Although I agree there would be occasions when it would be a good idea to have one.
    And when they do they need to be shown its appropriate use. That’s true of all technology.
    They need to be shown how best to use the increasing amounts of technology entering our lives. Children need to realise technology is only one tool, one type of entertainment, one way to communicate. There are times when it is not the best way.
    It can often be a poor substitute for many of the other pleasures of life to be discovered elsewhere.

  7. Bridgetteciaj Report

    Both my children have cell phones and I am the one who pushed for it. In the world today, I need (want) to reach my children wherever they are. My kids are currently 11 and (almost) 13. They have had cell phones for 2 years.

    I have to say, my daughter (youngest) has only lost her phone once and my son has been very good about keeping his (though we may be on the losing his for the first time right now). This is a very important item for both kids and they have honestly treated it as such.

    This does not mean I think all kids should have cell phones. I know of other children older than mine, who spend more time looking for their phones than using it. Perhaps they are not ready?

    However, I did not purchase either of my kids the phones they wanted. They both had to put in at least 1/2 the money for anything other than the “free” phone with contract at our local cell provider. With Christmas gifts they put money aside and this was important enough that they chose to put money towards it. Perhaps this is part of the responsibility for them?

    I think if I were in your position, at whatever age you feel he’s ready to begin cell phone ownership, you might consider having him buy his own phone and start with a “pay as you go” plan so that if he loses it, you’re not stuck paying for a 2 year contract. I see an important lesson on the horizon.

  8. Never A Dull Moment Report

    Dear Emmie,

    You are doing the right thing, sticking to your philosophy and managing the fallout. If you have a larger lesson to teach (and it seems you do!) then it would be a parenting mistake to let him pressure you into getting a phone now. I have two thoughts I wanted to share.

    One thought is that this is an opportunity for your stepson to prove some responsibility and earn his way up to a cell phone for, say, his 11th or 12th birthday.

    The other is that we faced a related situation when our 8 year old started walking his 6 yo brother to their grandma’s house after school. It’s a little less than a mile and we know a lot of neighbors on the route, but we wanted to be able to communicate. But 8 is TOO YOUNG for a cell phone in our opinion. My dad found the solution – 2 way Motorola radios. Great range, even in the city, gets the weather station (my sons think this is so cool) and he can only talk to whoever has the other one.

    Hope this was helpful, I very much enjoyed your post.



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