should an 11-year-old have a phone?

My fifth-grader has one of those unfortunate December birthdays: one month absolutely sick with presents, then bupkis for the other eleven. When you have to wait that long, December counts as “around the corner” as soon as you’re back to school.

“You know what I want for my birthday, Mom,” Connor said last night at dinner, with a sheepish grin. “You know what I want for Christmas too. Cause it’s the same thing.”

I do know.

He wants a phone.

kid on phoneAt least half the kids in his class have one, because he’s in fifth grade  now, which seems firmly “big kid,” or at least it does until you have a fifth grader. A few years back, a mom at our school (with older kids) told me fifth grade was the year kids were officially old enough to get themselves to and from school. That sounded fine with me since at the time my oldest was a second grader.

Now he’s in fifth. And as tall as a grownup. And that is old enough to get to school by yourself.

But since we live in New York City, that means he’s solo on  a city bus, the subway, or walking three-quarters of a mile.

I can hear my cousins in Omaha gasping from here, and yes I agree, let’s take the subway off that list right now. Way less dangerous than it used to be, but you’re still stuck underground if something happens.

But with the bus, you can always hop off. And walking is the easiest of all. You can’t get lost: New York City is a grid. If the numbers are getting smaller, you’re heading south.

Which brings us back to the phone. That same older-kid mother told me that fifth grade also equals phone. Not to make phone calls, of course (who does THAT anymore?) but so you can text your mother to say “at the bus stop,” then “at school” six minutes later.

And that makes a ton of sense, until your kids’ school has a meeting for the fifth-grade parents that is ostensibly about all things fifth grade but should have just been called “FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY DO NOT BUY THEM PHONES.”

Smartphones do not make your kids safer, their principal argued. They make your children targets for muggings.

Worse than that is what’s on that smartphone: unfettered, unsupervised access to the Internet. “I have yet to see a child of this age use a smartphone wisely,” the principal said. “Please, please do not give them exposure to things they are just not ready to handle.”

And so I am really struggling with this phone decision. Is my child ready to handle a phone? and the byzantine rules of texting? and walking 14 blocks by himself?

More importantly, am I ready to handle it?

Does your child have a phone? What do you think is the appropriate age for children to get one?

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephanie Precourt September 30, 2013 at 9:33 pm

Here’s how it is at our house, and I know we are not in the majority: they get a cell phone at age 10. We started with the basic cheapie non-Smartphone. Texting only family and then moved on to a friend with approval. Since moving super far away from family and friends, the cell phones have been nice for my older boys. And since we know no one else here, I feel better knowing I can reach my kids in an emergency. (We live in a tsunami hazard zone as well.) It’s been something I’ve grown to love as far as communication goes. I’ve not once regretted it. They do take them to school but they have to remain “off” all day. And of course we have had (and continue to have) cell phone etiquette and safety discussions, what they can’t take photos of, who they can share with, etc. I will say that knowing my kids have a cell phone makes it easier to send them out and about alone. That’s an area I really struggle with, but knowing they have a cell phone gives me peace of mind. I wish I was more free-range, but this is just who I am!



Amy Wilson October 1, 2013 at 5:14 pm

see there’s a mitigating personal circumstance: a tsunami hazard zone! Thanks for the support Stephanie


alexandra October 1, 2013 at 1:08 am

I think he could have a simple phone, just texts and calling ability, for safety sake. BUt at this age, nothing more, because I know of two situations, first hand accounts, of the trouble that came from 1. posting photos that a parent saw and 2. finding an adult content website. Not that your son will do it but that his friends will grab his phone and do it. I’ve heard of it from parents themselves… it’s the peer pressure, it’s kids who take the phones from others.


amywlsn October 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I know of such situations too Alexandra… my son was at a slumber party where some unacceptable Googling went on after hours.


Kaylee October 1, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Here’s my solution Amy, and it’s actually what we did with our now senior in high school…give him a NON smart phone. No internet access, for calling and texting only, with parental limitations on time and number of texts/minutes used. Trust me, you’ll see how quickly he’ll be addicted to it regardless. We kind of feel backed against a wall as parents when “all the other kids” have phones, but we really do detest our teen having a smart phone. It’s created additional barriors between him and the family, like any teen needs that!, and he spends most of his time looking down at that tiny screen. I wish you luck in your decision!!!


amywlsn October 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I’m going to try to find some sort of Star Tac 3000 type thing that does texts and calls only. Maybe Pong a la 1984. Thanks for the tip Kaylee!


FLMOMSBLOG October 1, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I agree with Stephanie, though our son got one at age 8(he’s almost 15 in December). Before I get grief over this, let me tell you that 1) he got it around his 8th birthday that December, and 2) we were going to WDW a LOT and if he went on a ride with friends of ours, we needed to be able to reach him.


amywlsn October 1, 2013 at 5:12 pm

No grief from me! I think personal circumstances dictate the right answer to this question. for you, a kid lost at Disney World; for me, a kid lost on a not-so-safe NYC block.


Paola October 3, 2013 at 5:54 pm

IMO it depends on the kids. We were aiming for age 12, 7th grade, new school etc. But He is taking the bus home in the pm this year, in grade 6. The stop is a 5 mins walk from the house. I gave him my old iPhone just in case of emergencies, and he’s very responsible about it. At school it’s always off. He doesn’t have data so can’t use the internet unless on wireless (and no access for kids at school) and most importantly has no facebook, instagramm or any other social media accounts on it. I know that it will be much later for his sister, as she is not as responsible as he is.
You only know if it’s the right thing or not.


Leigh Ann October 5, 2013 at 2:18 pm

This is such a hard decision! I can see the convenience of it, and the peace of mind. But I hadn’t even thought about it making them a target. Then again we live practically across the street from our school, and my oldest 2 are only in kindergarten, but I’m sure 5th grade will be “right around the corner” as well.


Heather November 2, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Hey you–Owen got one in September. Middle School, taking the school bus, letting himself into the house for the 15 minutes before David gets home… It’s been ok so far. He takes pictures, listens to music, and pretty much texts/calls us and two of his friends. He knows that we “own” it and can look at it any time we want. I struggled, truly, but iPhone 4’s were 99cents in August and we said yes. So far, no downside, really, but this is because we are psychotically strict. Miss you, btw!


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