How young is too young to be given a cellphone?


Those of us 40 and above have seen the greatest technological advances perhaps since the industrial revolution. Our children have grown up in an altogether “techy” environment where the internet has gobbled up most of what was tried and true for decades before us.

Ask a kid today what the Dewey Decimal System is or what a pay phone looks like, and you’ll get a deer-in-the-headlights response. The impact of technology is still being negotiated in our daily lives. When do you stop reading the actual newspaper and move on to the digital version? When do we stop going to the mall to buy running shoes and instead order them online? And more important, when do we allow our children to own a smart phone and expose them to all the hazards and pitfalls that come with the gizmo?

Recently, as I picked up my daughter from her last day of summer camp, I saw several of her fellow 8-year-old campers on their phones having very engaged conversations. It was a clear parenting shot across the bow. The realization that my daughter is approaching cell-phone age is daunting. There was something not quite right about 8-year-olds having that kind of adult tool and thus adult responsibility just yet.

I proceeded to consult, if not harass, several friends about the way they’ve handled the cell-phone quandary with their kids. I reached out to my friend Annie, who is a single mom, and a good one, of three teen boys. Certainly she would have some insight. “I love the security the phone affords me in that I’m in touch with my kids at all times. However, you have to be mindful of the monster that is social media,” she warned. Annie said that she is connected to all three boys’ social-media accounts, which seems sensible however embarrassing that may be to the boys. After all, isn’t being a good parent to teens all about not being afraid to embarrass them or yourself?

I get the need for a latchkey teen to have a cell but my kiddo is only 8. Surely, 8 year olds haven’t matured that dramatically since I was in elementary school in the now prehistoric land-line era?

As I scoured the internet looking for information on kids and cellphones I came across a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation highlighting that 31 percent of children between ages 8-10 had access to a cellphone. The survey was conducted in 2010 so undoubtedly the number has gone up since.

I emailed my friend Efrain who is the single father, and a exceptional one, of three teen and just slightly pre-teen daughters. He told me he fought getting them phones as long as he could. He finally gave in because of circumstances —scheduling pickups, changing schedules etc. He got his eldest daughter one at 13 and now he’s wrestling with the idea of getting his youngest daughter one at ten.

My friend Mary Stuart, who is principal at Somerset Academy in Hollywood and has been an educator for 21 years, puts it all on the child’s maturity, regardless of age. “Of, course,” she emphasized, “the proper safeguards and monitoring have to be in place.”

Finally, I put together a “best of” compilation of the advice and information I gathered and came up with what seems to be a pretty reasonable time to get my daughter a phone — and that will be when she needs one, not necessarily when she wants one. And when it does happen, I will monitor and control her apps until she is mature enough to handle them on her own regardless of the embarrassment it may cause.