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When should I give my child a phone?
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By: Bill Brady, Troomi Wireless
April 24th, 2024

When my dad got his first cell phone, it was literally the size of a briefcase… a bag that he carried with him that had a handset attached with a cord. He could only make local calls and paid more than $2 a minute to use it. Now, cell phones are affordable, pocket-sized devices that provide an unlimited stream of information and connection to anyone and anything.

And since everyone seems to have one, every parent in America is faced with the conundrum of balancing the pros and cons of providing a phone to their children. The question is less about “Should I give my child a phone?” and more about “When should I give my child a phone?” The goal of this post is to help parents walk through some of the considerations of that decision.

Does my child need a cell phone?

In short, no—your child does not need a cell phone. But really, neither do you. Certainly convenience—and modern social expectations—demand it, but those of us over the age of 45 did not have phones growing up, and we managed just fine. Whether your children are in elementary or high school, you likely remember what life was like before cell phones. We all survived without them for centuries, and we could do it again if we had to.

And while that may be true, cell phones undoubtedly make our lives a lot easier, adding unmatched convenience to both your life and your child’s. So, here are a handful of things to take into consideration:

How does your child get to school? If they walk, take the bus or carpool, it might be handy for them to have a cell phone in case something unexpected happens or plans suddenly change.

Does your child enjoy extracurricular activities? If they’re on a sports team or in an after school club, they could use their cell phone to call or text you with updates—and let you know when they’re ready for a ride home.

Is your child frequently running off with their friends? Not only can they use their cell phone to keep you posted on their plans, but you can use your phone to track their location and make sure they’re staying safe.

Whether or not your child needs a cell phone is up to you, but be sure to consider their routine and commitments before making the call. When it comes to safety, convenience and communication, you both stand to benefit from them having a phone.

When should I give my child a phone?

Once you’ve decided that your child is ready for a phone of their own, the next burning question is, “When?”

Because the answer will depend on each child, their maturity and specific needs, and your family culture, even the experts have refused to establish a magic number on age. However, there are some common-sense considerations to make, as well as screen time and media use recommendations to think about.

Ages 4 to 5

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry recommends limiting daily screen time to one hour for children under six. Between this recommendation and the crucial developmental milestones children reach in their early years, kids this age may be better off without cell phones.

That suggestion aside, if you find your child could use a cell phone at this age (for example, because they live with one parent while needing to stay connected to the other), consider keeping their phone’s functionality limited to talk and text.

At Troomi, we’ve made that possible by creating a phone environment that is completely customizable to the needs and maturity level of each child, and we always recommend starting younger kids with a talk-and-text-only environment—no pictures, no games, no apps. Let kids learn to use phones…as phones.

Ages 6 to 9

It’s recommended that children older than six not spend more than two hours on the screen every day. At this age, kids are spending more time at school and beginning to try out new activities. It may become convenient for your child to have their own device, and you’ll definitely hear about some of their peers having phones. Again, start them with very limited functionality based on their core communication needs.

Ages 10 to 12

As your child approaches their teenage years, you’ll find they have more use for their own cell phone, and by this age, your children will no doubt be saying, “But all my friends have one!” By the age of 12, many schools are asking or expecting students to be able to use digital classroom apps, so a phone does start to become essential.

On top of that, tweens love to take pictures, play games that spark their creativity, and download apps that help them with schoolwork, develop healthy hobbies or listen to music.

We encourage our Troomi parents to be very purposeful as they role out functionality to their kids as they grow, maintaining screen time limits and always avoiding pornography and social media — in fact, our phones are designed to avoid these negative influences for users of any age.

Ages 13 to 17

By the time kids are teenagers, it’s clear that having a phone is a legitimate need, but make sure those needs are being met carefully and intentionally. I always caution parents to make sure the phone remains a tool and doesn’t become a tyrant. Kids miss out on life when the default for free time becomes screen time. And even though social media becomes “legal” at age 13, avoid the temptation to let your kids have social media. Study after study now shows the harmful effects of excessive screen time and social media on young people. Here’s one poignant article from Dr. Jean Twenge, one of the leading researchers on the effects of technology on children and a member of our professional advisory board at Troomi.

Final Thoughts

When you make the decision to move forward with a phone for a child, be deliberate about it. Go for a kid-safe option that allows you to control the device remotely, creating a phone environment that is custom fit to your child’s needs and maturity.

Avoid the siren call of social media, and make sure you’ve got safeguards in place that prevent your child from being contacted by predators, bullies and spammers. We also recommend a safe web browser where you as the parent can predetermine which domains your child has access to—without giving the Internet full access to your child.

Finally, spend some time discussing a technology plan with your child before purchasing the phone. Have a contract in place that establishes how the phone will be used—and not used. Some examples of this might include not having phones in bedrooms, not having phones at the dinner table, certain hours when the use of specific apps or functions will be allowed or not allowed, and times of the week when they’ll be expected to put all devices away and go tech free for undistracted family time. Be sure to establish an understanding of consequences if the phone privilege is abused. Setting these expectations before giving your child a phone saves a lot of stress down the road and makes all the difference in creating a first-phone experience that is positive for everyone.
Bill Brady is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Troomi Wireless, a kid-safe phone platform dedicated to the digital wellness and mental health of children. Troomi is a founding member of the Digital Safety Alliance and provider of safe technology for children across the United States. Learn more at and reach Bill at bill(at)