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The modern era has introduced a new milestone for middle schoolers: a young person’s first cell phone. But what age is the right age to get a cellphone? How do you know if your child is up for the responsibility? And what do you do if your child’s friends have cellphones, but you’re not sure if they’re ready yet?

The truth is, like any milestone, different children are ready for cellphones at different times. Therefore, there is no one age that is the right time to get your child this device. Before you make this major purchase, consider the following questions.

1. Is your child responsible with their property?

Does your child tend to lose things? Or are they highly organized and reliable? If your child still isn’t ready to keep track of their property, it’s probably not a good idea to get them an expensive, highly breakable device like a cellphone.

2. Is your child good at managing money?

Remember that cellphone expenses don’t stop with purchasing the device. You will also be paying for data, minutes, and any charges your child may incur in apps and games. If your child isn’t good at setting limits and isn’t great at managing money, they’re probably not ready for a cellphone.

3. Do you consider your child socially mature?

During middle school, young people’s maturity is all over the map. Most typically developing young people will eventually reach some level of maturity, but before they do, they can often show poor judgment in social situations. Is your child prone to bullying? Or has your child been bullied? Is your child able to make friends in person, or does technology help them? Does your child show good judgment about what information to share publicly and what to keep private? Having access to technology also gives your child access to an intense amount of visibility. Make sure that you believe they can handle this before giving them a cellphone.

4. What are your and your child’s motivations for purchasing a cellphone?

Most parents are amenable to getting their children cellphones for safety reasons. Young people, however, have lots of reasons to want devices. If your child wants to socialize with others, that is a natural desire to have at this age. But if your child has shown signs of overindulging on games or other electronic devices or apps, they may not be ready to have access to these at their fingertips. Talk to your child about why they want a cellphone, and see if you feel that your motivations align.

5. What are other families doing about cellphones?

In the end, you are the best judge of whether or not your child is ready for a cellphone. But if you have positive relationships with the families of your child’s friends, you can also talk to them about when they are going to purchase phones of their own. Programs like Wait Until 8th empower families to work together to delay cellphone purchases until 8th grade or beyond.

6. What model of phone is your child ready for?

Remember that your child’s first phone does not have to be a smartphone. There are a number of companies that now produce flip phones that basically only allow kids to text and call. These might be useful as a stepping stone towards smartphones: if your child can prove they are responsible with a simpler model, then you might feel more confident in getting them a cellphone in the future.

Teenage girl lying on the sofa at home in the living room using smartphone, close up, low angle, close upYou Know Your Child Best

Remember that you know your child best, and you are the most equipped to make a decision about when and why they need a phone. Different children will be ready at different times, and it is up to you to make the best choice for your family.



Mathangi Subramanian, Ed.D., believes stories have the power to change the world. Her middle grades book, Dear Mrs. Naidu, won the South Asia Book Award, and her picture book A Butterfly Smile was inducted into the Nobel Museum by Laureate Dr. Esther Duflo. Her novel A People’s History of Heaven was longlisted for the PEN/Faulkner award, a finalist for the LAMBDA literary award, and named a Skipping Stones Honors Book. A former public school teacher, senior policy analyst at the New York City Council, and Fulbright Scholar, she currently consults for Sesame Workshop. She holds a doctorate in education from Columbia Teachers College.