Kids & Cell Phones (Where We’re At & Where You’re At…)


Oh, how quickly they fall.

A few months ago we talked about cell phones & kids on the KOAB Facebook wall. (I wish I could find the link because that was an awesome and informative discussion. Anyone save that chat?)

Even though many parents I totally admire and respect said that they got their children their first phones in 6th or even 5th grade, I’ll admit now that I was all smugly positive that I’d never get my kids a phone before *at least* their Bar Mitzvah.

Part of it was money (not a small part, mind you). And part of it was concern that giving a phone to a pre-teen would lead to his being over-screened and possibly over-entitled.

But then we moved. And instead of being homeschooled (and in my line of site 20 hours a day), our children attend a brick and mortar school.

And at that school, my 6th grader landed in a class of 21 boys, he is one of only two boys who doesn’t many of whom have a phone. (Edited to Add: I clarified this with him and some friends this afternoon. Apparently it’s not that 19 kids have a phone — only about half have a phone. Most, however, do have some kind of device – such as an iPad or iPod.)

My ever reasonable husband suggested that perhaps my hard-line against cell phones for kids might need reconsideration. “He’s new, Mara. He wants to fit in. That doesn’t mean we have to throw our values out the window. But you need to be sensitive to what that feels like to an 11 year-old boy. Plus, he’s got away-games for sports and goes lots of other places by himself now — which means he is often away from us, without any way to communicate, other than borrowing a friends’ phone. It’s not like there are pay phones all over the place anymore these days.”

Darn. I hate it when he’s right.

Of course, the Kosher-on-a-Budget-refuse-to-fall-prey-to-keeping-up-with-the-Joneses in me still wants to run for the cell-phone-free hills. Or, at the very most, buy him a 5 year old, refurbished flip phone.

Despite these instincts, though, we’re actually considering giving him my unlocked iphone 4 when I upgrade later this fall to an iphone 6. It would still be one of the older phones among his friends (in a nod to the no-keeping-up). And technically it would be free. Since we already own it.

But an iphone? For an 11 year-old? I’m still not 100% reconciled to it. (Heck, I didn’t get my first iphone until I was 40!)

If we do decide to do this, however, here’s what we’re looking at:

  • We’d add him to our AT&T plan, which would be $25 per month for the service.
  • We’d block data, so he doesn’t run up our meager 2 GB limit.
  • We’d make him sign a contract about reasonable and responsible usage. If he violates the terms, he’d lose his phone for a week. If he violates it a second time, we’d shut off his service.
  • We’d also make him “earn” the fee for his service plan. We’re thinking that would mean shoveling our front walk in the winter and moving our lawn in the summer. (Truth be told, we’d be coming out ahead – since we often outsource those “services”, for far more than $25/month.)


Life was easier when he was five.

So, that’s where we’re holding. Conflicted, but considering our options.

I’d love to hear from you guys on this issue: Do your children have cell phones? How old were they when they got them? What plan do you have them on? What restrictions do you put on their phone usage? Did you make them sign a contract? Let’s talk down in the comments section!


  1. So my five-year-old has already asked when she is getting her iPhone. When? Not may I please…forgetting the fact that she is F I V E! My Rabbi and I were talking and he said most kids have phones by the time they reach Bar/Bat Mitzvah age (he was just stating a fact). Some kids in 5th grade here have them. I see the majority getting them in 6th grade for all the reasons you listed.

    We are holding out as long as we can. Oldest is nine. So I have at least two more years before I start acknowledging the whining. And the blocking data is a very smart plan. We have 2GB too and I guard it.

  2. Our son is 11, and my husband and I were just discussing this. We will get him a cell phone when he is venturing off on his own, probably by the time he is bar mitzvah-ed. However, we are going with bare bones. Prepaid cards are so cheap these days that my parents, who do not use a cell phone, but have one on hand, pay $3/ month. We figure it would be a bit more for us, but this ensures no data and the understanding that the phone is only for contact outside of the house. If he wants to use apps or internet, we have a tablet and a phone that works only with Wi fi- no cellular calling, even! Mara, you could do the same with your old iPhone, keep it off plan and use it like an iPod touch.

  3. Debbie Friedman says

    I wasn’t going to get my 13 year old son a cell phone until high school. He is in 8th now, and t-mobile has a promotion where it’s $100 for 4 lines, instead of $120 for 3 lines, so I am saving money by getting him a phone! I gave him a non-smart phone in the meantime. We are now debating (daily) whether he is allowed to buy an iPhone with some of his bar-mitvah money.

  4. We got mobiles for our children when they started 1st grade. They need phones. What if there’s a terrorist attack or other emergency? If you are worried about data or money, Radio Shack sells pay-as-you-go Verizon phones for only $10. Pre-program a few emergency phone numbers into the phone (like mom, dad, school, grandma) and tell your child to use it only in an emergency.

  5. Even if you don’t allow data, the phone is wifi capable. So you might want to protect him by putting a proper filter on the phone as well.

  6. monica wildonger says

    There’s an app out there that allows you to use your phone with no plan. You can receive incoming calls but not make outgoing calls and it allows texting. You will have to google or bing it to find the name of the app, hope this helps.

  7. Traci Tessler says

    This is quite a hard decision, isn’t it? I completely resonate with all of your expressed feelings. Right now we are homeschooling, so my 13 and 11 year old daughters don’t actually need a way to call us. What we’ve done so far is given them old, disconnected smart phones, so they can use the cameras, the note functions, and listen to music. My ideal would be a flip phone when they are actually away and in need of communicating with us, in order to not have unsupervised texting and Internet use, but it must be hard to go back to a flip phone after having a smart phone, even if you never used it to make a phone call. Your ideas of earning the use of the phone, and committing to using it appropriately, seem spot on.

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