The Great Cell Phone Debate – Another Way for Kids to Manage Money

When should kids get a cell phone?When it comes to teaching kids about money, the first BIG challenge most kids will get these days will be the cell phone.  It’s become almost a rite of passage for a teenager – a sign that they’ve “grown up,” and a tool to fit in with their friends.

But as a parent, how do you know when to let your child have a cell phone?  And once you do make the decision, how do you turn it into a tool to help kids learn to manage money and be responsible?

First – accept the idea that it’s really not about reaching a particular age, it’s about being able to demonstrate responsibility.  In our house, this meant we felt the child would be responsible enough

  • to take care of the phone
  • to use the phone responsibly
  • to pay for the phone

So here are the guidelines and rules we gave our kids when they started asking about getting phones:

Taking care of the cell phone

Do you take good care of your stuff?  Do you constantly lose valuables?  Are you prone to dropping your electronics, or leaving them lying about on common surfaces?  If you can’t carefully watch over a phone, it will very quickly be lost, damaged, or stolen.

Just like allowing kids to make mistakes with money in order to learn valuable lessons, it’s also important to let them make mistakes with their valuables to learn how to take care of their stuff.  Each of our kids has lost or damaged a Nintendo GameBoy of one flavor or another.  It was painful for each of them – but it helped them learn to be more mindful of their stuff.

If your kid is accident or loss-prone, a cell phone is definitely not a good idea.  It would be nice of you to share this opinion with the kid, because the pain of losing or breaking a cell phone is a real bummer.

Using the phone responsibly

You’ll probably have ground rules for a cell phone in your house.

  1. No phone calls or texting after 9:00pm
  2. The phone gets charged in the kitchen, or laundry room – not your bedroom – overnight, every night
  3. No text or pictures you would be embarrassed to show your grandma
  4. Carry your phone with you and answer my calls when you’re out of the house

If your kid can’t agree to your ground rules, well… I guess that’s obvious.  Also make it clear what happens if these ground rules are violated.  I’m a big fan of the 18-point list this mom came up with – the video is worth a watch.

Paying for a cell phone

This is where the rubber really meets the road.  We’re pretty adamant about the fact that our kids will pay for their own cell phone.  It’s a bit of a luxury for a young teen, but an absolute necessity for an older teen / young adult – and one that we don’t want to be paying for when they’re that age.  We’re starting them off in the mindset that they should pay their own way with their cell phone.

For a young teen, someone with no job or long-term income, a no-contract plan is a natural fit.  “How can you agree to a two-year contract when you have no income?” we asked our daughter.  You may be (and we were) in a position to add your child to a family plan for LESS than the cost of a month-to-month plan, but I ask you to resist that urge.

It’s important to reinforce how expensive a cell phone really is.  Let your child pay for a year of service, at $30 or more per month, before offering the option of joining a family plan that may cost less.  They’ll feel the weight of the cell phone plan along with the rest of their expenses, and will learn — probably for the very first time — the importance of paying a monthly bill on time.  Don’t underestimate the power of this lesson.  When they’ve mastered this, add them to the family plan, pass on the savings, and deduct it from their allowance.  You’ve killed two birds with one stone!

When did your kids get their first cell phone?

A recent Massachusetts study revealed that some kids are getting their first cell phone pretty early:


I’m really interested in knowing – when did you make the move?  How did it go?  Comment below:

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Comments 2

  1. Lynne

    Great read. To understand the value of money, kids need to use their own money for the stuff they want. Phones are a great example and I agree that making your kids pay for their phones or the service it offers will teach them about the value of money.

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