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Back to School: When To Buy Your Child A Cell Phone

The right age to buy your child a phone? Your call

With the new school year just weeks away, many parents are considering whether or not they should give their child a cell phone. Is it a necessary expense? Is it safe? Is it just for emergencies? All worthy questions to ask, parents can reach a decision with just a bit of research.

First, parents should identify the basic needs of their child. If a child is staying late after school, needs a way to get in contact with his or her parents during the day, or is without supervision at times (i.e. walking home from school), a cell phone may be a good security blanket. Parents may also feel safer knowing that they can reach their child easily.


“Most kids around Port Washington get their phones when they go to middle school,” says Stacey Herman, a Port Washington resident, parent, and teacher at P.S. 196 in Forest Hills. “I personally feel that a child should be given a cell phone when that child is responsible to understand what it means to have a cell phone. By that, I mean, during school hours it needs to be turned off so that it does not become a distraction and in non-school hours it needs to be used appropriately.”

Jean Belcher, parent and fifth-grade teacher at Harbor Hill School in Roslyn, agrees. “I know a lot of parents who give [their children a] cell phone in middle school because kids stay after school for activities,” she says. “They want to be able to have their kids call them after they’re done.”

According to Mediamark Research & Intelligence, 20 percent of kids ages 6 to 11 and 36.1 percent of 10- and 11-year-olds have a cell phone. But this young demographics’ interest in cell phones doesn’t mean parents have to break the bank.

T-Mobile’s Family Allowances lets parents set limits on minutes, messages and downloads. If a family member reaches their limit, their service is temporarily disabled except for calls to 911 and parents’ numbers. With a cost of $5 a month, total, for up to five lines, parents may consider this option in their budget.

“Some families said that this is the first time our kids sat down and really talked to us, and it became a teaching tool form of negotiating,” says Graham Crow, account director for T-Mobile. “Not only understanding a cell phone but also the cost.”

David Sandberg, a representative for Verizon Wireless, discussed the options for a family share plan, in which parents buy children a starter phone.

“We’ve learned children don’t want phones that look like children phones,” he says. And with a Verizon Wireless phone, parents can put controls, locks, and blocks to protect their children and limit their phones’ access. Parents can also use the family locator to keep tabs of the GPS location of their children as long as the phone is on, he says.

Other providers, too, have taken measures to ensure children’s safety. Firefly phones allow parents to restrict incoming and out going calls and to limit or restrict text messaging. My Mobile Watchdog monitors phones’ cell phone usage, sending alerts to parents if their children receive an unapproved e-mail, text message, or call. AT&T’s Smart Limits allows parents to control children’s wireless usage and online access with Wireless Smart.

“I think there is also a philosophical debate that parents are having about what’s too young,” Sandberg says. “It’s up to the parents to make the decision.”

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