Cell Phone For Kids – Why My Kids Don’t Have One (And a Tell-All Interview)

When I put out a call on Twitter and the Rockstar Finance Forums  asking what folks want to know about kids and money, I got a tremendous response. Interestingly several were around kids and cell phones – both Slow Dad  and The Lady In Black (from the site of the same name) wanted to know about kids and cell phones.

Slow Dad: The other challenging one we’ve had this week was mobile phone options/plans for older kids. Stranger danger/over protective Mum versus dangers of running out of credit, add-on purchases in games etc. In the olden days we were free range kids who just learned to fight or run fast… doesn’t seem to work that way these days.

Lady In Black: At what age do you think you spring for a kids own mobile phone? (My daughter is 9.)

Psst – Want me to help with a kids and money question? Drop me a note at Liz@chiefmomofficer.org.

I found this to be a very interesting question, because my kids don’t have cell phones.

Yep, neither of them.

No, not even my almost-14 year old who is a freshman in high school and goes to school 30 plus minutes away from home on the bus every day. Nor my ten year old finishing up elementary school. So when you ask me about kids and cell phones, you’re going to get an interesting story.

So am I negligent? Cheap? Lazy? No, I’ve actually given this a lot of thought and decided that cell phones don’t make sense for my kids.

I Am Not Normal

If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you’ll realize that I’m really not just like everyone else. Breadwinner mom of a family of fivePursuing FI for twenty years, since I was a teenagerSurvivor of a medical crisis that almost killed my husband when I was in my early thirtiesCut the cable cord seven years ago? Check, check, check, and check. I’ve definitely got the “live like no one else so you can live like no one else” Dave Ramsey philosophy going on here.

Since I recognize that I’m not normal, I decided to do some research on what is normal nowadays. And sure enough, I found some interesting information on kids and cell phones.

Kids and Cell Phone Fun Facts
Kids and Cell Phone Fun Facts

Sources – Growing Wireless,  NY Times,  Pew research

My Kids And Cell Phones Philosophy – Go Against The Grain

As I mentioned, neither of my kids have a cell phone. So this means my 10 year old and 14 year old are both in the minority among their friends. Why don’t I get them a cell phone? Because it’s is a want, not a need, and until they want one enough to work for one they won’t get one. Eventually it will become more of a need, but by then they’ll be able to work for their own phone. And I know if I buy them one, they won’t appreciate it nearly as much as if they work for it and buy it themselves.

In the interest of finding out how my kids feel about going against the grain, I decided to do an interview with them. These are their real, unedited answers after I got them to agree to this interview.


CMO: So how many of your friends have cell phones?

Nick (14): All of them

Nate (10): Well, most of them.

CMO: How does it make you feel to not have a smartphone?

Nick: Um, it’s OK. I mean, sometimes I wish I had it so I could listen to music in class. And it can come in handy if there are no computers around and you had to look up something. But other than that it feels fine.

Nate: I actually don’t really mind it, but sometimes, just sometimes I wish I could get one because I want to be able to play the newer mobile games. And even though I do have a phone they’re old so they can’t process most of the newer games. (CMO comment – each of the kids has an old smartphone of ours for surfing the internet at home, but it has no cell or data service, only WiFi. And his is a iPhone3, which won’t work with most of the new games)

CMO: Do you want one?

Nick: Kind off. Um, because, I mean, it would be nice to be able to call you guys to say “I’m going to be late” or “I’m going to be early”, and not have to borrow other peoples phones. And sometimes in class it’s almost a requirement to have a phone to look things up because sometimes the computer carts are shared, and one day the teacher would have the cart and sometimes they don’t.

Nate: Kinda yes and kinda no, because it would be a huge responsibility and I can’t even take care of my 3DS. And it would be nice because I could play some of the newer games.

CMO: Smartphones can cost a few hundred dollars, and at least $30-$50 per month. Are you willing to work for one – do extra chores around the house or get a job to pay for the phone and the monthly bill?

Nick: Hmm. I’d say no. I mean I’d be willing to do extra chores to get enough money to get a new video game or something. But getting a job or the money for that, it would be really tough because of the cost. So I don’t think so.

Nate: Well, I kinda want to do it because having a job could be fun, but also a big responsibility. Usually you need to be 18 but you can get certain jobs at fast food places when you’re younger.

I proceeded to tell Nate that you could get certain jobs at his age, like walking dogs, taking care of cats, cleaning houses, etc. He then laughed at me and rolled his eyes. This was his was of signaling that he was not remotely interested in cleaning toilets in order to get a smartphone.

The Bottom Line

Honestly it’s a judgement call. Remember, I still have a landline phone, so I’m not always on the cutting edge over here. If your kids are often in a situation where they need a cell phone, and you can afford one without sacrificing other financial goals, then go ahead!

Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking they’re a “need” just because everyone else has one. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my late 20’s. If you’re my age or older, you probably spend your teenage years (or more) without a cell phone. Even if your child does need a cell phone, they almost definitely don’t need a smart phone.

Personally, I’ve never found the answer of “everyone has one!” or “everyone does it!” to be a good argument for anything. And if you’re a fan of financial independence, you don’t mind going against the grain either. I treat a smartphone like any other major purchase for the kids.

  1. If I determined it was a real need, I would pay for the “need” and they would pay for the “want”. So I would chip in enough to cover the basic phone and basic service, and they could cover the rest
  2. They need to use their own money – save up for the phone, and work enough to pay the monthly bill
  3. If they wanted one but weren’t responsible enough, based on their age, I wouldn’t let them buy one until they had demonstrated responsibility. At least enough to take good care of it and not lose it. This is why young kids and cell phones bother me-because they certainly haven’t learned to care for it properly.

Don’t sacrifice what you want ultimately for what you want now. If you’re pursuing financial freedom, or saving for your kids college, don’t let their desire for a smart phone keep you from your goal. Working hard toward their goals is a good thing, and gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride. Even if your kid complains that they’re “the only with without a cell phone!”, don’t be afraid to stand your ground.

I Want To Hear From You!

What’s your philosophy on kids and cell phones? Do they already have one? Are smartphones where you draw the line? Do they work for it, or do you pay, or a little of both? Let me know in the comments!

Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.

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25 thoughts on “Cell Phone For Kids – Why My Kids Don’t Have One (And a Tell-All Interview)”

  1. This is such a good topic to address, because I’m already thinking about it now. In my town, kids start getting bussed up to the middle school, 30 minutes away, when they’re 12. And that’s when most families get their kids a cell phone. But I am seriously opposed to that, not because of the monetary reasons, but because I don’t want them to be on the internet so much. It’s already extremely difficult to control time online with my 10-year-old. Even though we have a no-electronics policy during the week, he usually has to get on the (family) computer to do at least one homework assignment. I’m heavily leaning toward no cell phone, but I know Mr. ThreeYear would feel nervous without having some way to get in touch. So maybe a flip phone?! 🙂

    1. I think that’s a perfect compromise. There are tracphones at Walmart for very little, and they’re pre-paid at a very low cost. And I know how you feel, my oldest is bussed 40 minutes away to go to his magnet school in Hartford for the past several years. Him not having a cell phone has worked out fine so far (knock on wood).

  2. haltcatchfireblogger

    Maybe the actuality is a coincidence, but last night I was kind of shocked how my 4-year-old daughter played through a phone call with two of her daycare friends on her plastic play phone. The exact same questions were flashing through my mind that how long could I resist this phone thing.
    I am not a phone guy, I got my first Nokia 3310 around 18 and kept it for about 6 years. Nowadays I have a cheap Nokia smartphone which I barely use anything else for phone calls, SMS and as an alarm clock. Before I started blogging I enabled internet connection maybe five times. And since then another five times 🙂
    I think that the age of 12-15 would be legit to let her have a phone but I would definitely go for a $ 10 unlimited call and SMS package with a dumbphone, maybe a new Nokia 3310 for $ 50 🙂 If it was good for me it would be good for her. Or this is something just dads think. We will see in 8-11 years.

    1. Don’t worry, it’s not just something dads think-I’m totally with you. Having constant internet access via a smartphone is a want, not a need, and I’m not incurring a high ongoing cost so my kids can watch YouTube videos on the bus (which, by the way, is exactly what they would do).

  3. Love this! We don’t have kids yet, but Mr. Picky Pincher and I have chatted about kids and technology use. I do think there’s value in giving kids access to technology when they’re young. I’d be afraid of them being behind their peers when it comes to technology use and literacy.

    However, I don’t think an 8-year-old needs a cell phone. I got a cell phone when I was 12–and, mind you, this was back in the day when few people had cell phones. It was a Nokia brick phone that I used to call my mom and play Snake and that was it. 🙂 I only got the phone because I walked a mile to school every day and my parents didn’t want me to get kidnapped.

    For our future kids, I think 11 – 12 is a reasonable age to have a phone. I think it largely depends on the kids’ maturity level. I would definitely put safeguards in place on the phone before handing it over to them.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I let my kids have internet access at home, on the wifi, but we have rules about how long they can spend on there. In fact my oldest son has a tablet I won in a work contest. I agree with you that it’s not about preventing accessing the internet, because kids need to be able to do that. Maturity DEFINITELY varies by kid and what works for one won’t work for another. PS I used to love to play Snake on my graphing calculator back in high school and college. It’s fun!

  4. I cannot express in a type box how awesome this is!!! AR Jr. is only 2 years old, but I know we will certainly be tackling the cell phone beast before we know it!

    I like your approach and how your kids don’t have too much trouble without a phone. Sure, there is a convenience factor, but they figure out how to get info or contact you without a dedicated phone.

    My parents first got a third cell phone (dumb phone era… only text and call) when I was in middle school. It was VERY clear that it was not my phone. It was the “family phone” (aka- for either my brother or I and only when necessary). It was a smart move because I was getting into road cycling and would go on 10-40 mile bike rides alone as a 13 year old girl. For safety/emergencies, my parents would let me take the family phone on the rides and I would return it when I was done. It didn’t come to school with me and it didn’t sit in my purse or pocket. I think that will likely be the route Mr. AR and I will take with AR Jr (in, like, 15 years!!! haha)

    Thank you for sharing the interview!

    ~Mrs. Adventure Rich

    1. chiefmomofficer

      That’s a good point I didn’t talk about in the article-my kids always have access to our phones if needed. I’m fine with them borrowing it if they have to. Typically, though, they’re in places that already have a phone. There are phones at school. Tons of other people have phones on the bus. When they’re at scouting events, the adults have phones. So them having their own phone is really more of a want. Glad to hear that you liked the article! My kids had so much fun being interviewed. 🙂

  5. CMO,
    Our three kids are still under age 6, so we have a ways to go before this becomes a serious issue. One neighborhood kid (age 6) already has a watch phone that calls his parents. They went into a justification about why he “needs” it and it was a stretch.

    We do struggle with screen time in the house. Since none of them nap anymore (sucks), TV time is now their rest time. I’m trying to switch to reading books and magazines instead of news on my phone when the kids are around to be a good example. But these damn glowing rectangles have access to so much information!
    PS – see you at FinCon

    1. chiefmomofficer

      A watch phone is a need?!?! Wow. That must have been an interesting justification. I can’t think of any reason why anyone needs a watch phone…

      TV definitely sucks them in! We have limits for the older boys of half an hour screen time (TV, YouTube, video games) on school days and two hours on weekends. The rest of the time is for reading, playing, or doing art. I think it’s a reasonable balance for us. We haven’t had cable in seven years but there’s still plenty to watch on Netflix.

      Looking forward to seeing you at FinCon too!

  6. Our current plan has the kids getting basic cell phones and plans only once they learn to drive so they can call in an emergency. I’m curious on whether you will get your kids a basic phone at that point as well? It’s not a finance decision though as we have Amazon fire tablets for each kid for when we are all in the car on long trips. The real reason is I want my kids present, not on their phones all the time. For the same reason my parents wouldn’t let me have a page as a kid when that was the big thing..who exactly so urgently needs to call a ten year old?

    1. chiefmomofficer

      Exactly! I have a home phone so any friends that need to call can call my house. I don’t have anything against flip phones and would likely pay for one once he can drive. But still likely not a smartphone.

  7. My parents got me a cell phone (basic plan, handful of minutes and started with 25 texts a month), it was an indestructible flip phone. My memory’s fuzzy, but I went to high school halfway across the city and the phone happened after I missed a train and came home super late to a really worried Mum. But when I wanted to upgrade the plan I ended up making up the difference before taking the bill over completely when I wanted to get a fancy iPhone (for work, mostly). It definitely depends on the circumstance, but having that emergency phone was worth the peace of mind. Then again, I don’t have kids yet, so we’ll see how things change 😛

    1. chiefmomofficer

      Things always change once you have kids! 😀 They throw wrenches into our best laid plans. I like your parents approach-they paid for the need (a basic phone once they decided you needed one) and you paid for the want (nicer phone and iPhone). It’s pretty similar to ours!

  8. Thanks, CMO! This is very encouraging and enlightening. The Kid in the Black is 9. While she isn’t whining for a phone yet, I know she would love it if I just passed mine over to her. However, 3 large considerations prevent that. One, they will have to pry this “vintage” iPhone 4s out of my dead hand. Phones are stupid expensive and I’m not willing to give up on a perfectly size, perfectly functional device that’s paid off. Two, SHE’S 9! She can’t even spell the word “phone” yet! (On this week’s spelling list.) Does she need it to text her friends? No. Does she need it to call her parents? No, because we are there when she needs us. She wants it for games. (BTW, she has both a Kindle Fire AND and SurfacePro at home.) And that’s simply not enough of a reason to justify the expense. Three. As other commenters above mentioned, I don’t want her to turn into one of the phone-in-hand zombies I see everywhere. I have to watch myself from becoming one. Studies abound about how certain social media platforms are more addictive than illicit drugs! My current thought? At 13, she can get her ears pierced and a phone. However, that’s 4 years off. I might just stick to the ears pierced.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      I’m with you that I’ve always vaguely thought “teenager” as the right time for a phone. But as my high school freshman shows it’s certainly not a requirement. My 10 year old is just like your 9 year old, he wants one for games. Playing games is not enough to justify not just the cost of buying a phone, but also the ongoing cost of the plan. Us uncool, non smartphone granting parents need to stick together!

  9. I did a post on this as well 🙂 Bottom line for us – in middle school, both kids got a cheap flip phone from us (plus initial minutes). After that, they pay.

    And it is crazy but true that classes even in middle school seem to expect kids to have smartphones and look up info in-class for work. So far for younger child not an issue and older is assigned a Chromebook anyhow so has that.

    1. chiefmomofficer

      Your rule makes tons of sense. And I actually never knew about the expectation that kids look things up until I interviewed my son. He’s never said anything before so that surprised me. He does have a kindle fire that’s wifi enabled, so I would have thought he could use that, but he’s had issues before with the schools wifi.

  10. fetchingfinancialfreedom

    I was one of the very few kids with a flip phone in college (and no texting plan, to boot!). I think it definitely helped me define needs and wants later on in life.

    Can’t really imagine *not* having a smartphone now, though (of course, mine cost <$200 and is ~ $4-$5 a month). 😉

  11. AnnMarie Johnson

    I’m really surprised at your kids comments. My daughter–and all of her friends–do NOT talk on the phone and *only* chat/text to make plans, check on homework, be social, etc. They all (especially our daughter) feel weird about using someone else’s phone. It’s not quite to a need yet in our family (more so because our daughter has some problems following rules about social media) but it is becoming harder and harder for her without one. In addition, outside of school, most places do NOT have phones anymore–the park, the library (not for patrons at least), friends’ houses (cells only, and again, the kids think of cells phones as personal property, not something shared with even a good friend in most cases, and you’d NEVER ask a parent to use theirs), walking the dog (I haven’t seen a pay phone in this city at least), etc.

    Frankly, we’d like the phone so we can track her and make sure she’s where she says she’ll (there have been some issues with that, and a smart phone could solve that).

    1. chiefmomofficer

      That’s interesting-where I live the public places like libraries all still have phones that could be used in an emergency. And fortunately my kids aren’t shy about asking to borrow a phone when needed. Also they usually make plans with friends in person or over the phone. Maybe it’s something that’s different in different parts of the US, or with different groups of friends.

      And if you think a phone works for your daughter-that’s fine! Go ahead. This is just a point in time of my kids perspective. I’m sure they’ll get phones eventually.

  12. How often are kids 8-11 truly alone with no adult nearby? At home – we still have a home phone. At school? The building is filled with adults and there are phones in classrooms and the main office of my child needs to reach me. At sports practice or after school activities? They are typically run by adults. With phones – or at the very least an adult who can advise them in the emergency.

    In a major local crisis…everyone would be on the phone …swamping signals and the ability to make and take new calls. No guarantee cell service would be available.

    I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 18. When a teen is in trouble without their parents…most humans are willing to help and let you make a phone call or direct you to assistance. Even back in the days of buying minutes…people would let a wayward teen make a call if her ride was late.

  13. I’m so happy to have read that! After watching Dave Ramsey ourselves, I’m in compliance with kids needing to understand the value of items and “feel” the money that gets spent. I know it’s unpopular but I know I didn’t appreciate anything until I worked for it. I struggled with entitlement and so I will be different for my kids because I know long-term, they will be better adjusted to work and finances.

  14. So I see this is an old post, but now we are nearing the end of 2018 and both of my kids, 12 and 14 years old, do not have phones. And, to add to that, neither do I or my husband! We are a completely cell phone free family! People wonder how we survive, but how did we live in the 80s? Plan ahead! Saves a ton of money but more current concern is what kids are actually doing on/with their phones by middle school. If you don’t think so, you are in complete denial. Most kids have porn on their phones and nude pics of their classmates circulate like wildfire. Middle school hormones!

    1. chiefmomofficer

      It’s so true. My husband and I do have cell phones, but out kids still don’t. My oldest is turning 15 soon.

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