When my oldest daughter was in 5th grade, she started asking about cell phones. Evidently, some of her friends recently got their own cell phone. My first reaction was to assume that their parents were crazy and were simply giving in to the wants of a spoiled tween. Why did a 5th grader need a cell phone?
According to a report for the National Consumer League, conducted by ORC International in 2012, nearly six out of ten parents of tweens (ages 8 to 12) got cell phones for their children. Thankfully, the majority of the parents did not take their decision lightly. The report showed parents taking the steps to phone ownership slowly by reading articles, talking with other parents and comparing cellular service before taking the plunge. The result was a better understanding of the benefits of buying a cell phone for their tween.
1 Peace of mind. The most obvious reason to get a cell phone for your tween is the security in being able to reach them when they are not at home. Many middle school kids take a bus to school for the first time and prefer to walk to the bus stop alone. As your children get older, their activity level increases, taking them away from home more often. It is a comfort to a parent to know that they can call their children to see if they arrived safely, or to tell them of a change of plans to pick them up.
2 Comfort for your child. While it is reassuring for the parents to be able to reach their children, the kids also feel more secure. Your tween is trying to spread his wings and gain a little independence, but he still finds comfort in the fact that his parents are a phone call away. When my son and youngest child got a phone, he felt better knowing that if he didn't see me the moment practice got out, he can call to see if I am on my way. He can also call to ask for permission to go home with a friend after school, knowing I would worry if I didn't see him by 3:45.
3 A way to communicate with friends. A cell phone is very handy to use as a phone, but most of the communication from your child's phone will be in the form of texting. "We got our son a cell phone for safety reasons first, but also because using technology to communicate, learn, and play has become the way of the world," explains Tamara Ortegel, mother of three. Unlike our generation, our children don't have to wait in line to use the kitchen phone to get the math assignment from a friend. Your tweens can simply send their friend a text. As a parent, you can monitor who they are texting by sporadically checking the old messages or when the phone is left in the charger at night.
4 Teaches responsibility. Having a cell phone gives your tween the chance to try a little responsibility. Letting your child out the door with their cell phone does not guarantee that it will come back in working condition or at all. Tell your tween that they get one phone and they have to take care of it. My oldest child is notorious for losing and breaking her phone, but I refuse to carry insurance on it. Her punishment for irresponsibility was to use grandma's old phone with the antenna and no keyboard.
5 Strengthen relationships with family. One of the benefits that you may not expect is better communication with the extended family. Lisa Yore, mother of four believes her son has become more connected to family members. "My son has the phone numbers of aunts, uncles and his grandmother. They have had conversations and told him that if he ever needs to talk or needs anything, he shouldn't hesitate to call them." Getting a simple, "Good luck at your game" text from Grandma tells the kids that she is thinking of them.
6 Save money. With the addition of cell phones in your house, your landline will become obsolete. "We got Jack a phone because we switched our TV/internet provider and got rid of the land line because no one used it except him," explains Stacy Bella, mother of four. "His sisters all had cell phones and it was cheaper to do that than it was to keep the land line." With the addition of each new cell phone in the house, the few calls that come into your home phone are telemarketers. To balance the increasing cell phone bill, many eliminate their landline completely.
As the parent, it is up to you to set the rules regarding limits and expectations. Teach your tween about the responsibility that goes with owning a phone and explain the repercussions for losing or damaging the phone. Above all, remind your tween that having a phone is not a right. It is a privilege.
Pam Molnar is a freelance writer and mother of busy a teenager and two active tweens. While their activities often keep them away from home, it is a comfort to all to know that they are only a phone call (or text) away.