When to Buy Your Child a Cellphone
By STEFANIE OLSEN June 9, 2010
David Poger had planned to buy his daughter Maya a cellphone when she was 15 and in high school, but last year he and his wife caved when she was 11.
"There was a lot of nagging and pleading," said Mr. Poger, who lives in St. Louis, Miss. But for his wife, Stephanie, and him, he said, "Safety was a big issue because she was walking downtown with her school friends, going to movies and roller skating without us." He added, "I still think she's too young."
Many parents these days face the same struggle as the Pogers: at what age should you buy your child a cellphone? And when you do buy that first phone, what kind should it be?
About 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States own a mobile phone, up from 45 percent in 2004, according to an April study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, part of the Pew Research Center. And children are getting their phones at earlier ages, industry experts say. The Pew study, for example, found that 58 percent of 12-year-olds now had a cellphone, up from 18 percent in2004.
Parents generally say they buy their child a phone for safety reasons, because they want to be able to reach the child anytime. Cost also matters to parents, cellphone industry experts say; phones and family plans from carriers are both becoming more affordable. Also, as adults swap out their old devices for newer smartphones, it is easier to pass down a used phone.
But for children, it is all about social life and wanting to impress peers. The Pew study found that half of 12- to 17-year-olds sent 50 text messages a day and texted their friends more than they talked to them on the phone or even face to face.
Experts say the social pressure to text can get acute by the sixth grade, when most children are 11 years old. Just ask Caroline LaGumina, 11, of New Rochelle, N.Y., who got her phone last Christmas. "I wanted to be able to text because my friends all text each other."
So when is the right time to buy that first phone?