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Ask an Expert: Should my fourth-grader get a cell phone?

We tap two EdNews Parent experts to handle this question, Mike Harris, a Jeffco DA investigator of Internet crimes, particularly those involving youth, and Kevin Everhart, a child psychologist:

Q. My fourth grade daughter is demanding a cell phone. What is the right age for this?

Mike Harris: Children of today like all that technology brings to their world. All kids want a cell phone. Children go to school and see all their friends who have cell phones so they want one. A number of things need to be considered when allowing children to have access to technology. All children mature differently. Having a cell phone is a big responsibility.

Can your child have a cell phone at school? What are the school rules with bringing cell phones to school? Talk to school officials about this.

I stress to parents when first agreeing to provide your child with a cell phone set the ground rules:

  • Limit the amount of time your child uses the cell phone
  • There should clearly be a curfew when the cell phone is turned over to the parent at night and kept in parents’ bedroom being charged. I have found that 50 percent of children we talk with who have cell phones indicate they sleep with their cell phone. This will eliminate that problem.
  • Talk to your child about sending or receiving inappropriate calls and/or messages. Sending or receiving inappropriate pictures. Make a plan on how you and your child will approach these issues if this happens. If your child comes to you with something inappropriate, applaud them for coming to you. Then, make a plan to address their concern.
  • Consider placing a safety feature to the phone like This is a program which monitors a child’s phone on calls received, calls placed, text messages sent and received and pictures sent and received. The program logs all this on a computer and you can also have these same logs come simultaneously to your own cell phone. You are paying for your child to have a cell phone what is $10 more to have this safety feature along with some peace of mind of knowing what communications could become dangerous for your child.
  • Agree with your child about the rules and consequences of being allowed to have a cell phone. Stick to these rules and consequences.

There is no set rule for what age is appropriate for a child to have a cell phone. If you are considering a cell phone so children can call their parents to advise them of their whereabouts or emergencies than consider a phone with limited capabilities. There are phones which can be programmed to only call 911, parents, grandparents or certain phone numbers.

The one thing I tell children is that if you can’t show your parents what is on your computer/Internet or cell phones, than you are probably doing something you shouldn’t be doing.

Kevin Everhart: Cell phones require maturity and self-discipline. There are many adolescents (and some adults) who use them irresponsibly. There are also many elementary-school aged children who have cell phones and use them appropriately.

The decision to give a cell phone to child of any age should be based on the child’s maturity, not age. Does your child have difficulty being honest? Does he avoid doing homework? Does she ignore requests? Does he argue with you, test limits?

If so, adding a cell phone to her life is likely to make these issues worse, not better. On the other hand, if your child is honest and open about her life, is able to admit mistakes, completes her work on time and without argument, and accepts rules and limits, she may be ready for a cell phone. If you are having doubts, don’t rush.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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