O'BRIEN: Figuring when is the right time to get your kid a cellphone is tough

Posted: May. 30, 2014 9:45 pm Updated: Aug. 22, 2014 11:15 pm

While not exactly an age-old question, it's one parents today have to answer: At what age do you break down and buy your child a cellphone? There is no clear-cut answer.

At the O'Brien house, our oldest son, Derek, pleaded for a cellphone when he was 12. We finally broke down and bought him a phone three years ago as he was making the transition from Baldwin School to Quincy Junior High School. He was going to be staying home more, so we figured the cellphone would be a good safety option.

About three days into having that phone, he dropped it on the ground and the front shattered. It was a good learning experience. If you're going to get a kid a cellphone, make sure to put a protective box around it. Or you could just wait to buy the kid the phone until he or she is old enough to truly handle the equipment.

More and more parents are buying their teens and preteens cellphones. A study released last year by the Pew Research Group showed that 78 percent of teens had a cellphone and nearly half of those cellphone users -- 47 percent -- had smartphones. That put overall teen smartphone use at 37 percent, a hefty jump from just 23 percent in 2011.

One major cellphone carrier is trying to make a push into a new market. Earlier this year, Sprint starting selling a phone called the WeGo, which is aimed at 5- to 12-year-olds. The WeGo is an interesting concept. There are no games on the phone and you won't have to worry about them being a mini social media maven by accessing things like Facebook or Twitter.

The phone has a couple of unique features, including a panic alarm. A loud alarm sounds on the release of a tether pull string at the top of the phone. When that string is pulled a text or email is sent to an adult to notify them the panic alarm has been pulled. The adult can then call the phone to see what is happening. The phone is shatterproof up to 12 feet and is water resistant up to 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Don't expect to see a lot of kindergarten students carrying cellphones around the Qunicy area, though. According to a very informal poll conducted through the Herald-Whig's Facebook page, anywhere between 10 and 16 years old seems to be the prime time to give your kids the technology.

"I gave my daughter a cellphone when she was 10," said Jen Bell of Lima. "Last year, she was already on the school bus and then they canceled school. She was only allowed off the bus because a friend had a phone and she could call me. She now uses it to text me if she forgets something at home. It also gives her comfort that she can reach me when she is somewhere without me."

Some parents hand over the phones when their children show that they are going to be responsible enough to take care of them.

"In our house it's when your old enough to empty the dishwasher, take out the trash and feed the dogs without being told," said Misty Dowling of Mendon. "We have found 13 seems to be the extra responsibility age. Life isn't free and kids need to learn to earn that phone that costs money every month."

Several of those who responded said they would let their kids get phones when the child is old enough to pay for it on his or her own.

Most parents do see that as being realistic.

"I made my oldest one wait until he was 13," said Kathyrn Davis. "It was harder to make his younger brother wait once big brother had one. While I do see them as a luxury and not a necessity, we live in a high-tech world and it is hard not to get them for your kids. Just a different generation."


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