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How Young is too Young for a Cell Phone

Original post made by Elementary Parent, Palo Verde School, on Feb 23, 2007

In today's electronic age in Silicon Valley, I would like some perspective on this topic.. I have seen flyers come home from school with 5th graders on the subject with reminders that their phones must be turned off in class, but I have seen much younger than 5th graders talking on them straight after school. I know that there are phones out there specifically designed for the 6 - 10 year old range and I also know that for some families with children going straight into after school programs or sports that there may be good reason for this, but I worry that we are giving our kids too much too early.

On top of the responsibility factor, are we to look at these phones as an increase in their allowance, with budgeting in mind, or do we just pay the cost and let them have it?

These concerns are not just my own, I saw a segment on channel 2 news the other night and so I know that this is not just a Palo Alto problem.

Some perspective would be helpful. Thank you.

Comments (18)

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Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2007 at 12:28 pm

Connectivity is paramount in our culture. There's an irony in this, in that many of us live highly fragmented and compartmentalized lives, according to robot-like schedules. there less and less time to simply "talk", and hang out; thus, the growth of cell phones.

Another thing to remember is that one of the primary things that makes us human is our penchant for communication - in all its modalities; cdell phones enable that.

I don't mind at all that kids use cell phones, but what does bother me is the out rageous prices that cell phone companies extract foro their services. Compared with the rest of the world, Americans are rippped off by those who leverage our need to communicate into their excessive profits. I would like to see more real competition in this sector, so that more people- including kids - could use cell phones.


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Posted by Jay
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2007 at 3:05 pm

I gave my daughter a cell phone in 6th grade. She only uses it to call for rides, etc.


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Posted by Mary L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 23, 2007 at 5:43 pm

I agree with Jay ... 6th grade was the year each of our older kids got their first cell phone. Prior to that it was unnecessary because they were always with an adult who had a phone. Once they reach Middle School it is impossible to get in touch with them while in school (only in an emergency will the office pass on a message to your child). In the beginning we used it only for emergencies, rides, etc..But now I will occasionally get a text message from my High schooler about a grade on a test or a fun assembly :-) It's a good way to keep in touch with your older kids, but prior to 6th grade a phone is not necessary.


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Posted by Lee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2007 at 8:03 pm

We held out until our oldest turned 16. We were concerned about monthly costs, not only because we didn't want to get stuck with high bills, but also because we want our kids to understand that cell phones don't come cheap. We ended up choosing the inconvenience of a pay-as-you-go plan. It costs $30 for 300 minutes, which we decided should be enough for a month. Parents pay $20/month, child pays $10. If child exceeds 300 minutets, child pays full amount (only happened once!).


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Posted by Tom
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 24, 2007 at 1:57 am

I'd like to add that some of these new cellular phones with cameras, internet, etc. seem to be becoming a large part of these youngsters' lives. I don't like the fact that my son plays games and spends time using his phone for these things--a phone should be for talking!


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Posted by David
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2007 at 4:20 pm

High Schoolers do use their phones a lot in class, sometimes because its hard to turn off (missing calls), but also my parents know how to text, so they'll remind me on stuff. Even though it's done in class, it helps sometimes.


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Posted by Mike M
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2007 at 4:46 pm

On the subject of cell phone cost:

Caution - This is a tale of "low usage" pay as you go . Your mileage will almost certainly vary.

I purchased a T-Mobile phone for $100 a year ago to replace my wife's company provided phone on her retirement. It came with 60 days free usage (I think 100 minutes - not sure).
After 59 days or so I purchased 365 days/1000 minutes for a further $100.
Effective cost over 14 months a little over $14/month (including cost of phone).

Towards the end of this time (363 more days) there were 895 minutes remaining.

Imagine my surprise when I went into the store just before the 365 days elapsed expecting to fork over another $100 for the next year. I was told I was a GOLD member (for ponying up $100 in the first place) and simply needed to add $10/100 minutes for the 895 minutes to carry over for a further 365 days.
Total minutes available in 2007 = 995. Total effective cost over 26 months about $8/mo.
For a true low usage individual this is hard to beat (if you can stomach T-Mobile coverage).

As a side note; a Radio Shack salesperson told me there is a large upsurge in interest in pay-as- you-go as opposed to contract arrangements. I'm certainly sold on it.
For the conversationally challenged it's a winner!

Mike M


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Posted by middle school parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Feb 26, 2007 at 9:06 am

We allowed our 6th grader to buy himself a phone (pay as you go) with his birthday money and agreed to giving him $10 a month by way of a $20 phone card every two months to finance it - any more he pays himself. Since his initial enthusiasm, his interest has waned, primarily due to him forgetting to turn it off and it rang during class which caused him problems. Since then, he has been reluctant to take it to school unless he thinks he may need it afterwards. Then he forgets to turn it on, which makes it useless for us contacting him. He has left it at friends homes and other places. He has been the victim of many phone pranks from 'friends' and is quite disillusioned with the idea of a phone. He has spent most of his money downloading ring tones and games. As a useful tool for keeping him in touch with us, it has been of very little use. However, as time passes, it is getting better.

He may just be one example and many 6th graders may be using it more responsibly than this, but I think that anything younger than 6th grade makes it doubtful as to the wisdom of owning a phone. Obviously every situation is different, but unless you really feel a need for a phone for a younger child, I would say wait a bit. Like many toys children are given, novelty value and the "extras" are the real reason children want these status symbols.


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Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2007 at 10:58 am

I suggest you opt for a text message plan. Kids use this a lot and they can get very expensive if you pay for each one. I think our plan gets us 500 text messages for $5 a month.


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Posted by Phoning Home
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2007 at 11:26 am

The moment my 5th grader began riding his bike on his own I found that a cell phone was the best way to make sure he could call home. Back in the day there were pay phones everywhere, so at his age I could just slip some change in my pocket and I could reach my parents any time. Now you'd be hard-pressed to find a coin operated phone, certainly not in a convenient place. For my own peace of mind, I want a way for him to reach me.

That phone is not for chatting, it's for calling home. I call it "the family phone" and he does not receive calls on it (except from me, of course). You can purchase a basic phone for $20 from Virgin Wireless, and their pay as you go plan is the cheapest I've found. I end up paying about $7/month.

If he were using the phone recreationally, I'd work out an allowance system. That issue has not yet arisen for my 5th grader, but might come up in middle- and high-school.


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Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 26, 2007 at 11:45 am

A lot of kids have phones, but not all. My high-school students differ in their interest and use level with their cell phones.


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Posted by Elementary Parent
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Feb 27, 2007 at 11:44 am

What about the elementary kids? Do the schools have any official comments on the subject? Are phones like "Firefly" useful?

And SkeptcAl, if you are reading this, as a teacher, I would value your comments.


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Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 1, 2007 at 9:47 am

JustMe is a registered user.

Cell phones for kids should be considered a tool and a safety device, not a social networking toy for maintaining 24/7 contact with friends.

I like the phones for kids that have parental controls over who they can connect with, so they can only be used to contact family, not talk endlessly with friends. They now also come with GPS locators for added parental control and safety.

How old is old enough for one of these? When they are old enough to use them and not lose them. They are a great way for parents to keep track of their kids.

If the kids want a phone that allows them to talk to friends, that could be done too, but it will first require a trip to McDonalds to inquire about a job.


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Posted by A PARENT
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2007 at 8:39 pm

I THINK WHEN A CHILD IS IB 5TH OR 6TH GRADE A CELL PHONE SHOLUD BE GIVING. I SEE TO MANY CHIDREN IN 3RD GRADE WITH CELL PHONE ABD FOR WHAT REASON. THEY CAN USE THE PHONE IN THE OFFICE AND HALF OF THE TIME THEY CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER TO DO THERE HOMEWORK. SO A CELL PHONE IS OUT OF THE GUESS IF YOU ARE IN 2ND OR 3RD GRADE.


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Posted by Cassy
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2008 at 9:43 am

I'm a 6th grader and I say pay as you go does not work I had a phone with that plan and I was constintly having to add minutes or pay for going over. My parents finnaly bought me a real phone over the summer and I use it alot. My parents always know I have my phone with me and get a hold of me when they need to.


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Posted by Cassy
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2008 at 9:43 am

I'm a 6th grader and I say pay as you go does not work I had a phone with that plan and I was constintly having to add minutes or pay for going over. My parents finnaly bought me a real phone over the summer and I use it alot. My parents always know I have my phone with me and get a hold of me when they need to.


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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 20, 2008 at 9:53 am

My son has had a cell phone since 6th grade, he is only allowed to use it to call his parents and one adult friend in emergencies.

As for younger kids - for the ones who walk home from school alone to an empty house - a cell phone is a great safety net. The other younger kids who have one mostly have divorced parents who want to keep in contact without talking to the other parent.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2008 at 10:14 am

PA Mom has it right.

Cassy, shows why 6th grade is too young for many. A pay as you go phone is a real cell phone. What Cassy does not realise is that she is abusing the privilege her parents are giving her in having a cell phone. If she is constantly going over her minutes then she is learning nothing about responsibilities. I feel sure that she does always have the phone with her and is using it a lot to call friends, download ringtones, take pictures, etc. It is young people like this who get into abusing cell phones, start cyber bullying and make problems for the rest of us who refuse to give our kids unlimited calling plans. When my child says "everyone has a phone, and everyone calls all the time" this is where they get it from.

To Cassy's parents, give her an allowance and make her pay if she goes over. You are not doing her a favor by bailing her out. Teach her responsibility while she is young and she will benefit later when she has to balance a check book or pay off her credit card.

I am not blaming Cassy, she is just falling into a trap.


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