How to Make the Cell Phone Decision

When making the phone decision for your child, there are 3 things you need to know.

Many parents jump right on the cell phone bandwagon and assume that their child like every other child in America needs a cell phone. They don’t really think it is a great idea, but they don’t trust their gut instincts, and their kids are wearing them down with their constant begging. They don’t want their kid to be left out and quite frankly they want to be able to reach them at their convenience. But, before you trade your smartphone in and give your child your hand-me-down phone consider the the following questions.

Why does your child NEED a phone?

What is the purpose for your elementary age child to have a phone? Middle school? High school?

Write out the Distinct Purpose for the phone for each child.

  • Is the child in a dangerous situation on a daily basis?
  • Is the child unsupervised daily?
  • Is he/she driving?
  • Is he/she walking to sports in a rough part of town after school without an adult?
  • Is the child moving between two homes of a divorced family? If this is the case, does he need access to his phone all through the school day? Or just on weekends? Or during visitation?
  • Are they socially fragile and you think a phone will help their social development?

How to practically know when your child is ready for a phone.

One way to assess if your children are mature enough to handle the responsibilities of a phone is to look at how they are progressing developmentally. Maturity, impulse control, judgment, and low risk-taking are all needed for responsible use of phones.  Since it takes a long time for the frontal cortex to fully develop in the human brain, we can’t rush maturity, but we can look for signs of progress.


Your child is not ready for a phone if YOU are still:

  • Reminding them to brush their teeth
  • Cutting their meat at dinner
  • Listening to their inappropriate bathroom humor
  • Ordering their meals off the kids menu
  • Cleaning their room for them
  • Retrieving their lost and found items from school for them
  • Cringing because they can’t control their “mouth”
  • Noticing regular social impulse control issues like gossiping or making fun of people


Your child may be getting close if THEY:

  • Do their own laundry on a regular basis
  • Make their own school lunches
  • Wake up in the morning without your help
  • Speak confidently to adults and friends and make eye contact
  • Plan ahead for events (pack for a trip)
  • Get a driver’s license
  • Secure an after school job and pay for the monthly service


You should TAKE AWAY THE PHONE from your teen if:

  • They have bullied someone online
  • They have sent a sext or received one and not reported it to you (including selfies of private body parts, theirs or others)
  • If they have lied to you about passwords, phone use, content
  • If they have gone around parental controls
  • If you feel you need to take it away for any reason

What kind of phone do I get my child?

Here are your options:

No Phone

  1. Free.
  2. No worries about overusing.
  3. No distractions.
  4. No fragmenting of brains
  5. Better grades*
  6. No Regrets. Your children will ever have to worry about what inappropriate things they left in their digital footprint.
  7. No stress over losing it.
  8. No anxiety over text content, bullying or being “left out” of photos etc.

Basic Phone/Flip Phone

  1. Simple to use.
  2. Good first phone idea
  3. Durable.
  4. Less distraction.
  5. More secure, less chance of being hacked.
  6. Longer battery life.
  7. Less temptation to overuse.
  8. Less likely to develop screen addiction.
  9. Easy to connect with friends via voice or text.
  10. Easy to keep the internet off.
  11. Can Pre-Set numbers if desired to allowed to call and receive calls.
  12. Safer for teens when driving.

Smart Phone

  1. Expensive to replace
  2. Computer in pocket
  3. More difficult to manage
  4. Parent can see location of child (unless location services is disabled).
  5. Parent must take on a full time job of monitoring texts and social media as they are ultimately responsible for all communications coming from that device.
  6. Once given, its harder to take away.

There are a few things to keep in mind when considering the purchase of a first phone for your child.

  1. Start slow. Start with a trial period and always start with a basic phone. (text/talk only)
  2. Know more than they do. Don’t hand it over until you have time to learn how to monitor it well.
  3. Parental controls: Set up restrictions BEFORE you hand it over to your child.
  4. Buy your child an alarm clock. Phone should not be in bedroom!
  5. Accidentally got a smartphone to early (or handed them your old one)?  Learn how turn it into a basic phone; no child needs (data) access to the internet in their pocket 24/7. Download instructions here.
  6. Establish a Cell Phone Rules Agreement.(Sample Rules: Download PDF or WORD/1.4MB)

Carrier-Provided Parental Controls for Cell phones

You may not know it, but all major US cell phone carriers provide parental controls for cell phones.  However, you must manually enable parental controls.  They are not automatically activated for any cell phone that you give to a child and the controls don’t necessarily work on all cell phones

“Giving my daughters a smartphone was the worse parenting decision I ever made, I wish I could go back in time and re-do that decision.” -Mom of 3 teenage girls


Can your child use a smartphone responsibly?  No. They need help. Is this your first child? He is not mature enough or smarter than the neuroscientist and attention engineers who built that smartphone. Cognitively speaking your child is not able to handle the temptation or the distraction that that a 4-inch private adult entertainment screen brings to their backpack.  It is impossible. If this is your second or third child, you already know what I am talking about and that your precious little teen will lie to you and sneak apps and sites that you forbid. So use all the parenting wisdom, intuition, and get your wits about you!

Can you teach your child to use the phone responsibility? Yes, like you can teach them to drive responsibly; over a lot of time and with a lot of seatbelts, airbags, guardrails, and really patient parenting. Timing is everything, for until their frontal cortex is a little more connected to their midbrain you will have big challenges. There are classrooms full of bullied, scared, hurt kids, and teens whose parents thought they could teach their kids to prematurely handle the adult world the phone brings into their lives. Don’t be that causality.

Should you talk about it anyway? YES! Absolutely, and ALL the time! Talk about dangers, porn, sex, predators and anything else that you want them to hear from you FIRST, but know that they will still click on that video of the “Hot girls at prep school” They can’t help it. It is their job to be curious and take risk–and it is the job of all the site designers to make them click.

Did You Know?

An extra hour/day of screen time at 14·5y is approximately equivalent to two fewer General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) grades (e.g., from B to D) at 16y. Strategies to achieve the right balance between screen and non-screen time may be important for improving academic performance. Concerns that encouraging more physical activity may result in decreased academic performance seem unfounded.

Additional Resources

Simon Sinek on Cell Phones