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What's the Right Age to Give Your Child a Cellphone?



Remember when rotary dialing your friend's phone number took a solid 30 seconds? Remember begging your parents to buy a longer phone cord so you could drag the whole thing into your room and talk for hours?

Yeah, those days are over. Now we're always on our phones — googling, shopping, watching SNL clips. So it makes sense that our kids want phones, too. It's up to parents to decide when the time is right.

Here's what we need to think about: Why are you giving your child a phone?

Autumn Spencer
  • Autumn Spencer

If the purpose of the phone is safety and communication, and you're hoping to avoid the Pandora's box of social media for now, a simple flip phone or a TracFone is reasonable. (Side note: Your kid will definitely not think this is reasonable, so please don't tell him or her that it was my idea, thanks.)

If your child desperately wants a phone because all of her friends already have one, and they're socializing on Instagram with her, then consider that having a smartphone is a privilege, and — you know the drill — with privilege comes responsibility. Is your child mature enough to handle that responsibility? Will he or she respect the rules?

If you're looking for a second opinion, check out the independent, nonprofit organization Common Sense Media. It's a wealth of research-driven information and thoughtful parent and child media reviews, organized by age group. Their Cell Phone Parenting page includes guiding questions such as: Do your kids lose things? Will they use text and photo features responsibly and not to harass or embarrass others?

It's also important to educate yourself on best practices for staying safe on the internet, and to make sure your kids know how to be internet-wise. And if you're feeling guilty about this whole phone thing, don't. Your kid wants a phone like we wanted someone to pass us a note during lunch or ask us to slow dance to "Stairway to Heaven," even though nobody ever knew what to do during the fast part.

Learning how to socialize is an important aspect of developing into a well-adjusted adult. Just because it's more technological than we ever imagined, doesn't mean it's wrong.

In this new monthly column, comedian, writer and mom Autumn Spencer answers tricky parenting questions. Have a question for Autumn? Send it to

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