Ask The Parent Coach: Does my Tween Need a Cell Phone?

By Jan Roberts

Dear Parent Coach,

My 5th grade son is begging for his own cell phone. He says most of his friends already have them. I don't really understand why he needs one, but maybe I'm behind the times.  What is your opinion?

Signed, "Calling For Help"

Dear "Calling For Help",

Tweens are very tuned into the newest, coolest status symbols around, and the cell phone is obviously one of them. Your son is on the verge of "tweenhood", and looking for ways to fit into this new world, he sees the cell phone as one way of feeling a part of his peer group.

Parents are often faced with decisions based on the difference between what their child wants and what their child really needs. A cell phone would fit into this category. Your fifth-grader can function very nicely without his own cell phone, and I suspect that very few of his friends actually own one.

Parental determinations for what's best for their child are often complicated by the "everyone has one, everyone gets to do it" argument. This is a universal ploy used by children of all ages, and parents should not be derailed as they try to make good decisions based on what is best for their own child and their unique family.

If there are times when your son is away from home with friends or walking to a destination, send a family cell phone with him so he can assure you of his safe arrival. This could be reassuring for you, and would give him a limited experience of using a cell phone with his peers. He could excercise his budding responsibility and "practice" cell phone use for when he's older.

In some ways cell phones can be a tremendous help for parents, such as the parents of teens. Licensed teen drivers can check in periodically, or call parents if they need roadside assistance, or if the evening plans have changed location.

For most younger adolescents, however, the cell phone is used mainly for social interaction, and tweens can become obsessive about talking or text messaging friends at all hours of the day and night. Setting guidelines for cell phone use can make parenting more complicated, to say nothing of the potential expense.

Nowadays, children have few things they are required to wait for or look forward to. A cell phone is a good thing to look forward to. You will save yourself from another area of parental monitoring if you require your son to wait and mature into cell phone ownership.

I agree with you. I don't think your son needs a cell phone at his age. He will be more responsible and appreciative of its use when he's older, having waited for and perhaps saved toward its purchase.

Practical Parenting Pointers:
1.  Tell your son that he will need to wait  until he's older to own a cell phone.
2.  Suggest an appropriate age that you would consider a cell phone for children in your family, and what the parameters would be.
3.  Consider purchasing a family cell phone for occasional and specific use by your children for safety purposes.
4.  For parental control over phone use and activities, require your son to continue using the home phone for friend contacts.
5.  Look for other age-appropriate ways your son can experience a "with it" feel of belonging with his peer group.

Signed,  The Parent Coach

The Parent Coach, Jan Roberts, also teaches weekly parenting classes, coaches parents individually, and writes a weekly newspaper column.