Why I gave my son a cell phone at 10 years old

hand holding phoneWe are excited to have guest poster Lucinda Watrous, sharing why she and her husband decided that ten was the right age to give their son his first cell phone.

As we shared on our Age of Independence survey, only 13% of surveyed parents thought that 7-10 was the right age for a first phone (11-14 years old made up the majority, with a total of 64% of responses) Today, Lucinda is sharing why they chose this age to get their son his first phone.

My son, who is now 11, got his first cell phone on his 10th birthday. Lots of people told me it was too soon – but let me tell you why, and how well it’s worked for us, and hopefully, you’ll agree with me.


For a year, we had a house phone through our cable company. It was part of a bundle that included TV and Internet, too, for about $100 a month. At the end of that year, the price of the bundle went up to $130, $30 of which was the phone.

Nobody ever called the house. When it rang, it was either a telemarketer blatantly breaking the Do Not Call List rules, a bill collector for someone who used to have the number, or a wrong number. If the caller wanted us, they called either mine or my husband’s cell phone… and the boy used my phone number to give to friends, since I work from home.

After some thought and some budget analysis, I realized it was $20 cheaper a month to just get the boy a line on our cell phone plan. We knew that he’d eventually be staying home alone, albeit for short periods of time, and only during daylight hours, but we needed him to have a line of communication to us.

Lessons in Responsibility and Trust

At 10 years old, you’re finally double digits, and you’re begging Mom and Dad for some trust. For us, a $20 flip phone was the perfect way to allow him to show us how responsible and trustworthy he could be.

We set some ground rules:

    • Phone goes with you to school (allowed where we are) but stays in bookbag during school hours.
    • Phone stays with Mom and Dad at night, so we know you’re sleeping and not texting.
    • Every phone number dialed must be in the contacts, and must be approved by either Mom or Dad.
    • If you get a call from a number you do not know – do not answer it. Tell Mom and Dad as soon as possible. Do not check the voicemail from unknown numbers unless Mom or Dad is present and can tell you what to do.
    • You lose it or break it, you pay for another one yourself.
    • Mom or Dad can go through your phone any time without warning. If you clear your call logs or text messages, you must let us look through them first, then tell us you’re doing it, so we don’t accuse you of hiding something.
    • We will look through the call log on the phone bill and question you if we see something funky.
    • Break the rules, lose the phone. It’s not yours. It’s on loan.

Over the course of a year he followed all the rules. He lost the phone once because it fell out of a pocket on some new pants he’d never worn before. He came in from school immediately and told me what happened. I called his phone. The bus driver answered, and said he’d keep the phone safe. Thankfully, a student turned it in. Since it was the last day of school before Spring Break, his punishment was going without the phone until he went back to school.

The Smartphone Upgrade

Right before he turned 11, we changed carriers to save money. I wasn’t really ready for him to get a smartphone, but since we opted for a carrier where there were no free phones (everyone pays the same price for the phone regardless) it again, made financial sense (there aren’t really many “dumb” phones left out there) and gave him another chance to show responsibility and trust.

While his dad and I opted for the Galaxy S5, he said he wanted a Windows Phone (and he wasn’t getting a top-of-the-line smartphone anyway). I bought his phone outright, a refurb, for $50 – the cheapest phone available at the time.

We again, sat down and set some ground rules, but since the phone knows he’s under 13, and our carrier has tools, too, it’s been a little easier. Features like Cortana are not usable because of his age, through Microsoft. I’ve got Internet filters on his phone via our carrier, and there’s no way for him to bypass them.

In addition to the rules we already had in place:

  • We no longer keep the phone at night, but you use your phone’s alarm to wake yourself in the morning and get ready for school. Mom’s done being your alarm. (I have an alarm set, and if he doesn’t notify me he’s up at a certain time, I can go wake him, but I haven’t had to yet.)
  • No app downloads without prior approval.
  • No paid app downloads at all, unless you get prior approval and give me the money from your allowance.
  • No using data off Wi-Fi without permission.
  • You can lock your phone, but Mom or Dad must know the code to unlock it.

He’s had the smartphone for almost four months, and he’s followed every rule. It’s been great for all of us.

Do your kids have a cell phone? If not, what age will you give them one?

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