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When Does a Teen Need a Cell Phone?
Cell phone teens
Photo by K. Kendall

My oldest recently turned 16. It feels so weird to have a 16-year-old! I still remember the day she was born so vividly, and if I close my eyes I can still feel what she was like as a baby.

But she is developing into her own person, and that has meant certain changes in our family. To understand some of those changes, you have to understand our different personalities.

I believe there are three types of people in this world: people who are late, people who are early, and people who show up at 1 minute past the designated time.

I am the latter. I am never early because what's the point? There's too much to do! So I time everything down to the last detail, so that I can leave at the last possible moment. Hey, you can always throw another load of laundry on, right?

I know the schedule for all the traffic lights in the area. I know which ones to avoid at what time. I don't even take the same route around town, depending on the time of day, because it may shave off a minute or two. I'm a little bit neurotic.

But I'm also rarely very late.

My daughter is early. She is always early. She has friends to see, and she wants every minute she can have with them! It drives her nuts that I don't want to leave when she is ready, even if I'm ready, too. This throwing one last load of laundry on is completely beyond her comprehension.

So she is extremely responsible. Nevertheless, that does not always stop her from being late. When she's with friends, she doesn't want to leave. Such is the lot of teenagers.

Let me explain.

Recently our girls were both out for the evening. Our junior high daughter was with friends at church, but our senior high daughter wanted to go with friends to the mall (they were accompanied by an adult). We said sure. They said they'd be back at 9:00. We should have known better.

So we dutifully showed up at 5 to 9 to collect said senior high daughter, but she wasn't there. We waited for a while, and then decided to go get gas. We got back, and still no Becca.

Then Keith's cell phone rang. They were running late, and she gave us instructions on where they were. We picked her up. No problem.

It wasn't that she was in any danger, it was just aggravating. We knew she was with responsible people.

But nevertheless, we decided that, since she was now 16, it was time to get her a cell phone to ensure that these late things no longer aggravate us. We bought a cheap plan that allows unlimited texting, and the deal is we pay half and she pays half. That way I know she's safe, and she can call or text me when she wants to spend that extra twenty minutes with friends, so maybe I can even get a load of laundry folded, insted of waiting for her in some parking lot.

Obviously this will be easier on me to let her have a cell phone--and I do think that as teens age, and are out on their own more, it's a matter of safety. Nevertheless, I can't say I'm happy about it. It seems that so many people spend their lives texting, and a phone becomes a big time waster--and an expensive one at that.

I'm not particularly fond of cell phones. I have one and I hardly ever use it. We never use up all of our minutes. I just use it for emergencies, or if I need to check in at home while grocery shopping. Only about three people even know the phone number.

I think that's mostly my generation, though. When I'm out of the house, I'm AWAY from the phone. That's the whole point! I don't want to be receiving phone calls on it. When I'm out doing errands or riding in the car, I spend time thinking and praying. I'm away from my usual head space. I don't want the phone interrupting that.

Teens, however, as soon as they have them, seem to be on them all the time. They text people constantly (HIYEEE :) :) :)). It gets really annoying. And I absolutely hate seeing teens text during church.

What do you think? Are you ambivalent about cell phones for teens, too? Do you have rules about phone use within the home (or at church)? Let me know!

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At 8:06 AM , Anonymous Carletta said…

No teens here yet, so take this for what it's worth... My husband and I have always said that our kids can have cellphones when they can purchase them and pay the monthly bills themselves. I guess that could change, but I hope we stick to it.

I do think there are reasons a responsible teen might need a cell phone. However, I don't want my kids to get in the habit of constant textbook, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I don't think this is an ideal way to live. So I hope we hold out on providing a cell phone as long as we can, and that we are good at teaching healthy vs. unhealthy use of it.


At 8:19 AM , Anonymous Melinda said…

For awhile we made things work by just sending my cell phone with the kids when they were in those situations. (I use my phone almost as much as you use yours!) But once they started driving they got their own. Each has a very limited plan and understand it is an emergency phone. My oldest (18 yrs) just took over his own cell phone including bills. No texts, no tweeting, no Facebook at the table, at church, during school, etc. and absolutely no use when driving!


At 10:22 AM , Anonymous Janeen said…

I know that my views on this are relatively unpopular with other parents, but I'll post anyway. We do not allow our kids to have cell phones before they are driving. Until that point if they need to get a hold of us for any reason they can usually borrow a land line phone or use the school's phone, etc. I don't at all see the need for them to have them until then. After that point, they may have a cell phone, but NO TEXTING. They can pay for texting when they are 18 and purchase their own plan.

Texting is dangerous. People say things via text that they would never say to someone in person or even over the phone. It can lead to arguments, misunderstandings and an increased lack in communication. Girls all over the U.S. are falling into the trap of "sexting", leading to premarital sex, promiscuity, depression, guilt, shame and even suicide. I see NO BENEFIT WHATSOEVER in allowing teens to text each other.

My 18 year old son has his own phone with texting. The number of girls that have sent him dirty images of themselves is STAGGERING. I have four daughters, and they will NEVER HAVE TEXTING.


At 10:25 AM , Anonymous Sandi Bray said…

Our youngest son is 18. He never was much on telephones to begin with.
We are talking about a person that still have yet to get his drivers license as well.
He got his first job last September, and he said he wants to save up for his first vehicle instead of getting a loan, and he wants to do this before he has a license, so back to the cellphone issue. With him working, we didn't want him to ever think he is stranded anywhere. He texts me when he can, and he calls me on breaks, but most of all he calls me when he gets off work, and stays on the phone with me until one of his rides gets there.
He has an older brother in another state, and they call or text each other constantly. He pays his own bill, which he was an add a family member on our plan, and he knows if he goes over, that he has to make up the difference!
I have seen children as young as 7 at the park, and they have cellphones so they're parents can keep up with them (Expensive Babysitter huh?) I think there should be an age of teaching responsibily, and I think you are on the right track with your High Schooler in taking RESPONSIBILITY, and that you are on the right track!!!


At 10:26 AM , Anonymous Melanie E. said…

We'll probably do an inexpensive phone for each of our kids when they turn 16 and can be out on their own at times. (Not that we'll be letting them roam the city for hours at a time!) Not sure about texting - I don't think my son will be all that interested, but I don't know about how my now-12 year old daughter will be when she gets there! We'll either add a line to the phone we're paying for for my FIL ($10/month) or just get a simple pay-as-you-go phone and agree to pay "x" on it on a regular basis.

My 14 year old niece recently got a phone, but not because her parents really wanted to - her school (private) *requires* that all students call their parents from the building to make sure they're outside ready to pick them up. (Doesn't this say a lot about our society, that they assume all families, and all *teens* have cell phones?!) They got tired of having to juggle borrowing friends' phones and just added a $10 line to their existing plan.

They have strict rules about it, though. As soon as she hits the door at home, it goes on the charger and stays there until time to leave in the morning - no home usage at all. It's pretty much only for calling after school, and for emergencies.


At 10:31 AM , Blogger Sheila said…

Melanie--Yikes! They assume that kids have cell phones? That is ridiculous!

And Janeen, I do see your point about texting. I find texting easier if I have to tell Rebecca something when she's baby-sitting, but I understand about not wanting to get gross pictures. Why do kids do that?

It is a hard world, isn't it?


At 10:46 AM , Blogger Megan said…

I think no earlier than 13 and no later than 16, though this is an area we are still considering in my family (and thankfully don't have to decide on for a while yet!). I just think that two years is the minimum to teach responsible and appropriate use of cell phones before they head out of the nest. And some children are mature and responsible enough to get one earlier than that.

One rule used by a family I really admire (they have raised 12 amazing children!) is that the kids can have a cell phone when they can afford to buy one on their own and pay for the added line to the family plan. They don't abdicate their rights as parents to set rules for use of the phone, of course, just because they're not paying for them.

Another rule I've heard that I like is the cell phone is docked in mom and dad's room when the teenager is home. If any cell phone rules are broken, the "nice" cell phone is taken away for a week and they have to use a silly-looking kid-style no frills phone kept just for such a purpose.


At 11:02 AM , Anonymous Robert W. said…

I'm going to be the voice of dissent here. As much as we didn't want our teens to have cell phones, we quickly realized that cell phones and texting had become "the" way teens communicate. If we didn't want our teens (a now 16-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son) to become resentful and socially isolated, we needed to come up with a plan.

We started with a pay-as-you-go plan but after a couple of years found this was getting too expensive. So we changed to a family plan, which ended up costing more than anticipated (despite what the salesperson said - so beware). Recently my son's phone developed a software glitch so he had to get a new phone. He ended up getting a Blackberry and now pays for his own plan.

I don't regret the move. In fact it has created less stress because we know we can get in contact with them when we need to. And it's kept them and I in a healthy social loop.


At 11:17 AM , Blogger Pickle said…

Our son is only 4. So we have some time and probable serious tech advances when it comes to phones between now and then.

I think in your case to give a phone for better contact is a bonus. I wouldn't let my kid have it at home. We have also made the decision that our son and future kids probably won't allowed on social network sites either. But I suppose we may be extreme in those thoughts.

Home time is home time. It is a place for family to unload from their social life and reconnect with their loved ones. It shouldn't be interrupted by ringing and beeping if it can be helped.


At 11:50 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

As you know our older girls are all in public school (long story...)

Anyway, when they started high school, they all got a Pay-as-you-go phone with limited airtime and no unlimited texting feature. We have too many friends whose sons and daughters got into trouble via texting and whatnot.

Over the course of the year, their phones were all either lost, or damaged, stolen. Maybe that was a blessing in disguise because we came up with what we think is a much better system.

They have one phone and it goes with whomever is out doing an activity or with friends. If by chance more than one is out, I simply give them my phone and they can call me at home.

It works much better that way for us. We spend less on cell phones, and the phones are limited to their intended use: a way to keep in touch when we're apart or in case of emergency. This way our kids don't see their cell phones as a lifeline or an appendage they can be without.


At 1:18 PM , Blogger Tessa said…

No teens yet here either but my siblings and I got to use my mom's phone when we were out driving. We got a cell when we went to college. My parents paid for mine and my brothers, but my younger sister abused it and ended up getting her own and paying for it (at about 18, when she started to party an stuff). I started paying for my own phone when I was moved out an married (which happened at 19 and while I was still in college).

My husband and I have decided that our kids will get a limited phone (that we pay for) when they start driving. It might be one phone for all the kids to share or they may each get their own on a shared plan. Not sure about that and we've got a few years to decide. They will also get to use one of our cars so they have to ask permission instead of just taking off in their own car whenever they feel like it. The whole them paying for it doesn't really work for us as chances are our kids likely won't have jobs off the farm for quite a while. (They work on the farm and mom and dad "pay" them through these perks, they work off the farm and they pay for some more things themselves.) This is the way that my parents did it and it worked great for my brother and me. We learned to respect the vehicle and not abuse the phone. My sister challenged it a bit more but she still learned to respect others' property and be grateful for what she was given. Plus she got into a whole lot less trouble that she could have.


At 2:31 PM , Blogger Herding Grasshoppers said…

At this point (our boys are 14, 12, and 9) we just have one cell phone - my husband's. I don't even want my own. I like to get away from the phone!

Since the middle son is quite hearing impaired, we'll probably move to something like a blackberry because it's nearly impossible for him to hear and converse on the phone. Any phone. That sort of texting will probably be a way of life for him, and thus for us.

But for others, why text? There's just no purpose for it. If you're in a situation where you shouldn't be talking on the phone, you shouldn't be texting either! Pay attention! ;D

About the texting in church... I started getting really irritated when I kept seeing a man (probably in his 60s) diddling with his phone during church, Sunday after Sunday. Then I realized he had some sort of Bible software (maybe LOGOS?) he was using to take sermon notes. But if I saw a kid texting in church I'd have no problem embarrassing them publicly, alerting their parents, whatever.

Just my two cents,



At 2:37 PM , Blogger Renee said…

I guess I'm old-fashioned, but I survived without a mobile phone until I was in my late 20's, so I tend to think my kids don't need one. They have never asked for one, either. My oldest will be 18 in April.

But I have been considering getting a cheap one before my two oldest girls go on a road trip in April. A family we know has "one phone to share" for their kids, and I thought that was a good idea. They can pay for their own if they want it.

I like what has been said about texting, because now I will make sure to stipulate no unnecessary texting.


At 2:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

We have yet to allow our oldest (almost 17) a phone. I don't think she needs one - everyone else has one, so when she has been out with Youth Group or with friends, she has just borrowed someone else's to call us if needed.

Once she gets her full driver's license, we may consider a basic phone (we have an old one in the drawer - no internet access or pictures), providing she will agree to pay for all calls/texts herself.

I do see her friends overusing their phones - constant texting. And for boys, playing games. I see my son's friends receiving texts from aggressive girls constantly, and I am rather keen to avoid that!

I do think that with the rise of internet-accessible phones, there is a great risk of sexting and porn. There is no way to limit websites (like there is on a home computer), so stumbling across dubious websites is easy - especially in a group of boys.

And the whole dependency thing worries me - my teenagers' friends are just so attached to their phones! When my younger childrens' friends are getting phones at the age of 10 and 11 - it is years of dependency ahead of them!

I keep thinking that when I was at school, I caught trains to and from school that were late, cancelled, broke down and once even crashed (!!). I survived. My parents trusted I'd be ok, and it gave me skills in thinking through a solution to a problem (cancelled train for example), rather than having an instant 'quick fix' available 24/7. I see my oldest needed to make decisions because she has been caught out, and I think it matures her. SHe isn't just going to be able to call mum to pick her up. She's going to have to find a bus to get home (not at night of course) etc.
Of course I am not talking about personal safety here, but practical stuff...!

Sim in Oz.


At 6:25 PM , Blogger 2littlehearts said…

I have an 18 year old son who is graduated and working part time while waiting to get into a college program. I pay for his cell phone plan. He lives in a different city with his Father and I can text him and call him for no extra cost.

The texting is a nice way for me to feel connected to him. We talk weekly but it's nice sending him an 'I love you text' whenever the feeling strikes. I also like the idea of him being able to call me anytime he needs too. You never know when a situation might come up.


At 7:27 PM , Blogger Chrissy said…

My son got his cell phone around age 14. We were moving to a new place, and we'd decided against getting a landline phone, which meant a cell phone was in order for him. He surprised us by being very responsible with it - in fact, he never lost or misplaced his phone at all until age 18!

As for texting, it didn't really become the rage until about 2 years after he got his phone. He started off slowly, but now at age 20, he sends about 5,000 texts per month. On the other hand, he makes very few calls. Texting is definitely the communication tool of choice among his age group.


At 4:27 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

Well I will be going against the grain of comments here. :) We are tech geeks around here. lol We happen to love our cell phones. We have smartphones and love all the functionality it gives us. We link up our calendars and can keep track of each other more efficiently. Among many other things. :)

We have been wireless for about 8-9 years. So when the children started to be left home occasionally on their own (oldest was 12) we added a family line and they shared it. It was only used for the purpose of a home phone when we headed out. We still had them use our phones to call friends.

When oldest turned 13 we gave her the "home" phone to use outside of the house when going out with friends and to school. We didn't give her texting until she turned 15. We have strict limits of 500 texts a month so she has to think carefully about how she uses them. It also encourages actually making calls. If she goes over 500 then she gets NO texts the next month. Our other rule is the phone gets turned off at 9pm and turned into mom & dad. We keep them on the charger in our bedroom at night.

We like being able to get a hold of each other via text. It's handy to text "grab some bread at the store" and not interrupt my DH at work. He reads the text when he's free. (and I don't forget to tell him! lol) With oldest now driving it's handy that she can text, "On my way home". I know she could call but when I'm at work I can't take calls. If she texts though I can see that and it calms my nerves to know she's on her way home or at home. :)

We find texting a very useful tool. We're teaching the kids it is just that though a TOOL. It's useful but not something to be abused. We still want them communicating via phone calls too. As with anything...moderation. ;-)

PS--As much as we love texting you may be surprised to hear we don't use facebook at all! Not a one of us. Can't stand it! lol


At 5:56 PM , Anonymous liz said…

I am a mother of six, four of whom have cells. All of those are adults, some on their own already. The rule in our house, even if it would be more convenient for me if they had a phone, is that they get a phone when they are working and can afford it themselves. Sometimes we have put them on our family plan until they are over 18, but not until there is the obvious maturity to take care of it. It seesm that when they pay for it and are responsible for it, they take care of their own time in a more mature manner. My 13 yr old wants a phone because "all his friends" have them but he is not working and so the answer is "no".


At 3:48 AM , Anonymous Nancy, Turning Winds said…

Weighing out the possibilities of having cellphone for our teens, I think it does more disadvantages than advantages. My kids just have to follow their curfews even if they're with an adult or else, there would be less privileges to be able to go out late with friends until they get older. Giving them phones might just make them abuse the opportunity of letting them stay out and just contact us when they're ready to be taken home. I might consider letting them have their own phones if they can afford it themselves and when they're responsible enough to use them.
If they pay their own bills, they will learn to save up and won't just text or call unless it's necessary.


At 4:08 PM , Anonymous shine said…

We are on the cusp of this, with kids ages 10, 8 and 7. Unfortunately, in the Upstate NY community where we live, the Catholic schools have a lot of wealthy families sending their kids there and some of my children's friends in 2nd grade had iphones! My husband and I think it is ridiculous –– and the school code says no cell phones in school, but it is not enforced.

I also have a friend whom I admire much who said she's gotten her kids phones more for the social aspect –– that without one, they don't have a social life. I was shocked, because I thought that was a very materialistic view of the world we live in today.

Presently, my husband and I have told our eldest (son) who has been begging for one since 4th grade that when he gets to High School he can have a phone. Now, due to consolidations in the school system, that means 7th grade –– which is sooner than I thought he'd get one, but at that point he'll be almost a teenager.

I like the "tips" I've read that suggest the charging station dock when they get home, as well as some responsibility for paying for part of the plan and/or the phone itself. It certainly will take some research and rule application (and I hate the idea of one more thing to "do battle" over), but with planning, I hope we can make the transition smoothly and set up reasonable checks and measures so that he is safe from the potential harms the phone can expose him to.

Our school system has been implementing some moral teaching about the responsible use of technology, which is great, for both parents and students. It's not an easy issue, but we're grateful the school is trying to be pro-active on this.

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Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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