Written by Doctor G

Kids and Cell Phones: Guidelines Please!

Aack! Dr. G, do you have any common sense rules for getting and using a cell phone? It is ALL my kid will talk about. She’s 8!

Darrell, in NJ

How old is the youngest kid you know with a cell phone? I know a 6 year old with a flip phone, and a couple of 9 year olds with smart phones.

I get asked about this a lot! As a matter of fact, I’m leading an online workshop about this on TheMotherhood June 21st at 1pm on this very topic. I hope you’ll come by, it’s free and always a great conversation.

In the meantime, here is a list of seven things to think about regarding cell phones and kids. We want respectful, responsible kids. Kids want cell phones. Let’s use the cell phone privilege to grow kids who are more respectful and responsible than they were before!


  1. Ask your child to write down a list of everything that would be great about having a cell phone (Hint: if your child is too young to write, a cell phone is probably premature). For special needs kids, help them make a list. Learning to outline your reasons for something builds responsibility.
  2. It’s not about age, it’s about action! There is not magic age at which a child is ready for a cell phone. Make your own list of behaviors you want to see from your child before you’d be comfortable entrusting him with a cell phone.
  3. Does your child currently show respect for their belongings? If not, make some clear goals for what she can do to prove her maturity in caring for her stuff. Keep your expectations reasonable – things get lost and broken in life – but expect her to make every effort to find or fix an item, or to pay for its replacement!
  4. Cell phones are expensive. What can your child do to earn the money needed to pay half the cell phone bill each month? It’s pretty likely that she will need some months to save the money. Your child will have more respect for this privilege if she needs to invest effort and money.
  5. Does your child speak respectfully on the phone and over email/chat/text? Using this new privilege for good (in the world) is crucial, right? Kids use phones to take embarrassing photos of one another and send them around, text mean stuff about classmates, conference someone in to a conversation without the third person’s knowledge, the list goes on. Does your child realize that any of that behavior (in any setting) means no phone?
  6. Is your child responsible about technology use? Does he follow your rules about how long he can spend on the computer, what sites he can visit or games he can play? If he has not followed these rules well yet, make sure he knows what the rules are and let him prove his responsibility by following those rules for a few months.
  7. Make it clear that all of the above growth needs to continue to keep the phone you are about to allow your child to have. Respectful care of her belongings (not only the phone), financial responsibility towards the phone, respectful communication on and off the phone, responsible technology use… keeping the phone depends on keeping up with all of these!

What else, parents? How else can we use the cell phone “carrot” to encourage excellent kid behavior?


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A widely recognized media personality, Dr. G is your go-to expert on resilience. Countless broadcast outlets rely on her contagious humor and illuminating stories to tackle tough topics. She is regularly seen on TV, as well as interviewed for print and digital outlets. Here, she’s answering your questions. Search for the answers you need, or ask her your question now!
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