The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Tween a Cell Phone


It’s happened—OK it’s probably been happening for years—your tween is begging you for a cell phone. It’s the old nagging, “All my friends have one.” “It’s safer for me to have a cell phone.” “I’m soooo responsible.” But, you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to give in. That’s opening Pandora’s box and once you get one, there is absolutely no going back. Sure, when you were a high schooler there was no way you had a cell phone (a pager maybe back in the day!), but it’s a completely different world today. Along with the safety and convenience issues to consider, there is also the social aspect of having access to this whole new world.

No matter which way you look at it, cell phones are more then common today with kids as young as 8 or 10. In fact, eMarketer reported in a recent study that in 2017, 45% of kids 0-11 years old and 89% of teens 12-17 years old have smartphones. However, that doesn’t mean that you need to get your 13 year old a cell phone. Kids mature at different ages and there are a variety of circumstances where younger kids may need to have one for safety/transportation issues while others really don’t have the need.

As Dr. Kathleen Trainor, a clinical psychologist who focuses on treating anxiety in young people and founder of the TRAINOR Center, says, “There really is no magic number.”  She sees most kids getting cell phones around Middle School. “This is when kids are becoming more independent, staying after school, doing more activities away from their parents and wanting to text with their friends.”

It is a huge decision and should be discussed and well-planned out to ensure success. See below for 8 tips to consider before taking the plunge.

Ask WHY they need a Cell Phone

Ok, this is a question you and also your child need to think about carefully. What will your son/daughter be using the cell phone for? Will they be using it for emergencies only, like staying late after school, sports practices or pickup at the mall? Do they just want a cell phone to get on Instagram? Is it really essential for them to be texting their friends? Is it a necessity, a convenience or maybe a luxury? Think long and hard about how you want your son or daughter to be able to use their cell phone once they have it.

Determine What TYPE of Phone

Their first cell phone doesn’t need to be the latest iPhone. There are plenty of starter and kid-friendly cell phone options to start with to test the waters before you dive in to a full fledged internet and app-ready cell phone. Do you want a pre-paid phone, a pre-programmed phone with a few different phone numbers? How much parental control do you want to have?

There are a variety of SmartWatches out there that alleviate safety concerns without any internet access or gaming technology. Cell phones can get expensive and kids who aren’t used to the responsibility are more apt to lose or misplace the phone, so keep the pricing/replacement in mind as well as the technology.

Make Sure They’re Ready

Don’t just surprise them with a cell phone on Christmas. Spend time (days, weeks, months..) talking about the responsibility that comes with a cell phone. Make sure they understand what it means, what your expectations are, potential risks/hazards. Gauge their readiness by things like behavior, grades, etc. Talk to your child’s other friends or even teachers/sports coaches to get a sense of the environment when you’re perhaps not around. Overall, really only you know down in your gut whether or not they are ready, so go with that feeling.

Teach Them

When they do finally get their phone, don’t just hand it over. Kids may seem like they know what they are doing – they’ve been watching you their whole life and have spent some time using your phone. But, owning their own phone is a completely different ballgame. You don’t want their data usage blowing up because they were confused about how it worked. Talk about everything from the basics, responsibility, privacy, etiquette, and more to ensure that they feel comfortable and confident with their new phone.

Set Limits

Here’s where things get dicey. How many limits should you set when it comes to their new phone? There are a lot of issues to consider and only you can make the best decision for your family. Here are a few factors to keep in mind when setting limits:

  • Driving with a cell phone – inform them of your state’s laws.
  • Sleeping with a cell phone (This is known to disrupt sleeping patterns for teens)
  • Can they use the phone during school, sports, dinner, work?
  • What are the school rules on cell phones?
  • Who is paying for the cell phone?

One good resource is CTIA, a wireless industry group. They actually put together a sample contract on their website which outlines family rules on cell phone use.

Take the Reigns

Establish the phone under your ownership from the get-go. As Dr. Trainor recommends, “It is not 'their phone' it is the parents phone so to speak.” This will help you retain control over it. Nowadays, parents do have many options for how much control they want to have over their kids’ cell phones (THANK YOU!!).

Things like web filtering, location tracking, app management, texting controls and more are now available to give thousands of parents’ peace of mind. You can even understand how long they are online and where they are spending their time, or set time limits and kick them off after limits are met with newer programs. Luckily there are so many options out there, you can determine exactly what program works for you and your child and we’ve found it’s best to be straightforward about exactly how it works so your child understands as well.


Continue to check in with your child about how it’s going and think about how it’s affecting their life altogether. Are they staying awake later at night to text? Are they becoming distracted? Upset? Is it making your life easier? Keep a close eye on things at the beginning.


Have a check-in point where you discuss next steps. Maybe they are ready for a full-fledged iPhone. Maybe they’re already starting to test the limits and bend the rules, so you need to reign them in. Give them a trial period where it’s still a test to see whether or not they can handle the responsibility.

It’s not easy and there are bound to be ups and downs, but you and your child will get through it together as a family. We wish you the best of luck and please be in touch with any questions we can help answer along the way!

Written by Phase2Parenting

PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.