We Let Our Daughter Get a Cell Phone

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A teen on a cell phone.I am one of those moms that when my kids were toddlers, I promised myself I’d wait as long as possible before getting our kids their own phones. And when we saw that our pediatrician recommended waiting until eighth grade, we agreed that it seemed like a good idea to wait until at least then.

Then reality kicked in. When our oldest was in third grade, we needed to figure out how to manage a once-a-week, 15-minute gap between when my daughter would get home off the bus and when my son would arrive home with the babysitter from daycare. We struggled with what to do, even though I was a latch-key kid starting in second grade.

Ultimately, we got a flip phone and an extra set of keys. Our daughter was supposed to call my husband or me when she arrived (and because she has a gift to gab, we usually talked to her until the babysitter arrived). We made sure that it was a boring flip phone, terrible for texting, and since it was one of those prepaid models, we could control how it was used.

Fast-forward to this past summer, when my eldest was between sixth and seventh grades. We moved to a new home in the spring, but our kids were able to finish out the school year at their old schools. So over the summer, she started borrowing my phone (and my husband’s) all the time to call her friends from her old school.

This led us to think very seriously about how long we would keep making her wait to get her first phone. We understand that social connections are so crucial for middle-school-age kids. And honestly, it is kinda annoying to be getting 10,000 texts from all of her friends.

Knowing the risks of various social media apps and worries over her having free reign to find all of the corners of the internet, we looked into what other people suggested to enable her to have a phone and stay safe.

We were thrilled to see that quite a few companies now provide phones with an extra layer of operating systems to help keep your kids safe. We learned about Gabb Wireless, Pinwheel, and Troomi, which all provide great options to enable different levels of parental control. We learned about features that Apple and Samsung (plus cellular providers) have rolled out to help parents control what their children can access on the phone.

And after weeks of research, we realized that there are so many ways to allow our children to access phones and only the other apps and resources we want. Since our eldest is in middle school, we like the options provided by getting a phone from Troomi the best. But we know that the other options available can help parents of kids of various ages feel safe getting their kids a phone.

We know that by getting our eldest a phone in the summer before seventh grade, (which was dependent upon her getting certain grades in sixth grade), we are setting a precedent that her sibling will undoubtedly remind us of in a few years.

But the good news is that we are delighted with the decision one month later. She has limits on the apps and the amount of screen time she can have. She knows that the phone gets charged in our bedroom every night. She is learning to use it responsibly. And despite a water bottle already getting lost this school year, she always knows where her phone is.

So you will have to figure out the right time to introduce a phone to your kids. A decision will certainly be based on your schedule, needs, and comfort level with technology. However, the good news is that companies understand our worries and are rolling out options to help make the process easier. Good luck!

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Erika is a professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies and mom to two kids (2010 and 2013) plus two cats (2005 and 2019). A Midwestern transplant who has lived in 32 places, she has happily called Fairfield her home for the past 12 years. At work, she directs a program to support first-generation and underrepresented student success in science. In town, she can often be found driving her kids back and forth to their respective sporting events and teams or sitting in a coffee shop using the wifi to get a little work done before pick up. Erika loves spending time enjoying the water, cooking, theater, reading, and hanging out with her husband.

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