Family Matters

What’s the Right Age to Give Your Kid a Cell Phone?

The most popular age at which parents give their kids cell phones is 12. Are tweens ready to handle the responsibility of their own digital link to the world?

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My 9-year-old son doesn’t have a cell phone. I don’t think it’s occurred to him to ask, which puts me in the blissful company of other pre-tween parents whose kids have yet to hound them for what’s become a standard accoutrement of childhood.

Just because he doesn’t have his own phone doesn’t mean he’s not using one, of course. He and his younger sisters take turns clamoring for my iPhone or settling for the iPod Touch — now-indispensable devices with which earlier generations didn’t have to contend. (Walkman, anyone?) It’s that overwhelming availability and access to technology that’s the subject of TIME Magazine’s “Wireless Issue,” in which I wrote about when to give your kid a cell phone.

Partly, the question revolves around concerns about radiation. I always make my kids put a pillow between any wireless device and their laps; when they chat with their grandparents on a cell phone, I insist they turn on the speakerphone. I want grandchildren someday, and the effect of the non-ionizing radiation emitted by cell phones remains unclear.

Turns out I’m not crazy. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission asking it to reassess its radiation standards for children. Kids “are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation,” wrote AAP President Dr. Robert Block, noting that the average radiofrequency energy deposition is two times higher in kids’ brains and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of their skulls, compared with adults.

(MORE: Pediatricians Say Cell Phone Radiation Standards Need Another Look)

Yikes. Nothing like talk of compromising baby brains to make you reach for the nearest hands-free device. It’s best to proceed with caution even as we continue to learn more about how cell phones affect us. There’s been some concern that the nighttime glow from digital screens devices may cause depression, for example. But as far as worries about eye strain go, pediatric ophthalmologist James Ruben, chair of the AAP’s section on ophthalmology, says it’s “probably much ado about nothing.” He’s seen no uptick in vision problems related to cell phone use in his practice in Roseville, Calif.

As for the impact of radiation, studies have been inconclusive, though the National Cancer Institute notes on its website that “in theory, children have the potential to be at greater risk than adults for developing brain cancer from cell phones.” Spanish researchers are currently evaluating that risk. The good news? One of the best things kids can do to avoid radiation zapping their developing brains is something they’re already embraced en masse: texting. Tapping out cell-phone missives keeps the phone away from their heads.

Alas, too much texting isn’t so great either, says Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and co-author of iBrain. “Our brains evolved to communicate face-to-face,” he says. “A lot of this is lost with texting.” Empathy and the ability to home in on social cues can also take a hit, says Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor and author of Alone Together, about the drawbacks of social media use. “There’s a difference between an apology and typing, I’m sorry, and ‘send,’” says Turkle. “Texting takes the messiness out of human relationships. It’s not our job as parents to tidy up the world and deliver it in little soundbites.”

Yet even before they can spell — somewhat of a must for texting — kids are becoming savvy with cell phones. More than 1 in 10 kids between the ages of 6 to 10 already have their very own cell, according to data collected during the first six months of 2012 by YouthBeat. The most popular age to bequeath a phone to a kid? Twelve.

(MORE: Nearly 1 in 3 Teens Sext, Study Says. Is This Cause for Worry?)

Whereas older kids view their phones as their social lifelines, younger kids, like my 5-year-old daughter, use them to play games and watch video. Recently when I pried my iPhone from her hands, she huffed: “If you won’t give me your iPhone, I’m going to buy my own.”

According to Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician who authored an AAP report last year about the potential pitfalls of digital technology, my daughter’s got plenty of time to start saving. Most young kids don’t need a phone — the exception may be children with allergies or medical conditions — but that changes once kids leave elementary school. “Middle school is the clear-cut time in my mind,” says O’Keeffe, who bequeathed phones to her girls then. “There’s a huge developmental leap between fourth and eighth grades.”

Much before then, kids may not be sufficiently responsible to keep track of a device or handle the complexities that can arise from being constantly connected to a cell phone — cyberbullying, sexting and overtures from strangers, to name a few. But don’t sit tight until that point; it’s up to parents to start early teaching kids how to play nicely in the digital world. “Well before you give them a cell, you have to start laying the groundwork,” says O’Keeffe. “It will go very smoothly if you help them acclimate.”

MORE: How ‘Kidsick’ Parents Stay Connected (Obsessively) with Their Kids in Summer Camp

36 comments
kidney
kidney

we didnt asked about that how old is your child u given ipod to him blahhh blahhh just asked at what age?

Shithead
Shithead

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lolerman
lolerman

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Shithead
Shithead

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Shithead
Shithead

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lolerman
lolerman

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cellphoneadict
cellphoneadict

you guys migth not listen to me at all but my name dont lie

lol
lol

Give That Kid A fu**** Phone DipShit

lol
lol

WHY IM I reading! this! fen Crap

lol
lol

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cellphoneadict
cellphoneadict

omg why am i reading this junk i think when you are born you sould have a cell phone

lol
lol

Why am i Fart Poo

My Little Doc
My Little Doc

We started our son out with a no contract "pay as you go" phone so he could not spend more than we wanted.

Matthew Porter
Matthew Porter

As part of the beginning of the cell phone rage, I got  non-texting/non-camera Sprint phone in 2005 when I was 12. It was supposed to be an emergency-only phone that I shared with my brother. I ended up racking up a $30 just from texting without a plan. By the time I was 13, I had given up the phone because it just wasn't worth it. In 2007 when I was 14, I was one of the few remaining people in my school class to NOT have a cell phone. I was still using payphones as my primary means of communication until May 2007; however, I got my first personal, regular-use phone in September of that year. Looking back, I wish that I would have waited until I graduated high school to get my first phone. There were still a "decent" amount of payphones (such as at gas stations) that I could have surived on. Not to mention, I wasn't even using it that much, and I was at home most days where there was a landline. There is no reason for kids (under 18) to get a cell phone. It just gets them into trouble, causes unnecessary distractions from their schoolwork among other important things, and it's a waste of money.

nedge84
nedge84

When I read the title

to this article, I was curious as to what age the author believed would be best

for a child to have a cell phone. Yes it all depends on the parents, but

truthfully Bonnie Richman you are right on track; the most popular age for kids

to get a cell phone is 12. I received my first cell phone when I was entering

middle school, so I was either 12 or 13. Although I didn’t keep my cell phone

for too long, I learned that it’s not really about the age of the child but the level of maturity the child has. Having a

cell phone is a huge responsibility and privilege;

some kids don’t realize that until they get it taken away (my case). Like you

said, “kids may not be sufficiently

responsible to keep track of a device or handle the complexities that can arise

from being constantly connected to a cell phone — cyber bullying, sexting and overtures from strangers.” When a parent gives their child a cell

phone, numerous things must be put into consideration.

In this article, I didn’t expect to be reading about how children are

impacted by cell phone radiation. It was intriguing to know that you have your kids put a pillow between any wireless device and

their laps and also you insist they turn on the speakerphone. Your decision has

made me take this issue more seriously (into consideration). I hope more

research is being made and the results are given to the public soon because I

wouldn’t want my siblings to develop brain cancer and I’m sure my parents want

grandchildren too.

Devra Lee Davis
Devra Lee Davis

Thank you Bonnie Brochman for shedding important light onto a growing public health threat.  As the American Academy of Pediatrics notes in its letter to the FCC, there are no studies on the impacts of microwave radiation from cellphones on  the developing brain.  While the power of such radiation is trivial and cannot induce heat, the erratic, unsteady nature of these weak signals may disrupt the ability of cells to communicate, to grow and to stay under control.   The GAO has just issued a report noting that phones are not tested as they are used, but with artificial spacers between the head or hip and the body.  Fine print warnings that few people ever read can be found in packaging with smart phones today and they indicate that when put in the pockets, phones actually can exceed the FCC exposure limits.   

For practical information about how to use phones more safely, please see amp; like http://www.facebook.com/EHTrus...

For free downloads of how to protect your family being handed out in pediatricians offices around the world, please go to http://environmentalhealthtrus...

Spread the word that YOU have a right know and READ the fine print warnings about keeping phones off the body and out of the pocket BEFORE you purchase a phone NOT only afterwards 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/...

Ivan
Ivan

Once he moves out...he can have one ;)

Renaud Lavoie
Renaud Lavoie

I got my first cellphone when I was twelve. It was shared with my bro. However, he lost it in the gym. My first all-to-me cell phone I got days before my 13th birthday.