Q: My wife and I have been debating this for some time: When should we let our 10-year-old daughter have a cell phone? She says all of her friends have one, and as far as I can tell, she's right. I don't feel that she needs one, and I don't think she's old enough for a $400 piece of equipment. My wife disagrees. She says our daughter needs a phone for safety. I've been holding my ground, but the pressure from wife and daughter is getting unbearable. What do we do?
A: Let's start with a reality check. I'm betting that, despite what you've seen, not all of your daughter's friends actually do have a phone. As the father of a 10-year-old daughter, I feel for you. Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Cost definitely figures in somewhere, but it's mostly about maturity. Some 9-year-olds might be able to handle the responsibilities of having a phone while some 14-year-olds might not be.
According to a 2012 study by the National Consumers League, 84 percent of parents who got their kids (ages 8 to 12) a cell phone did so for safety reasons. And 73 percent said it was so they could track their child's after-school movements. But while those sound noble, they may not be based in fact.
Before you make your final decision, sit down with your wife and discuss these questions:
Is your daughter responsible enough to keep that phone safe at all times? It is an investment, after all. If the answer to the first question is yes, but it's no to this one, consider an old-style flip phone, which you can pick up at most stores for $20.
Is your daughter mature enough to comprehend the threats that having a phone opens her up to?
Does your daughter want a phone simply because it's a status symbol, or for social reasons? Neither of these is an acceptable reason.
Can you afford to add another line to your phone bill? What about data? What about text messages?
Does your daughter understand the limited number of minutes she'll have or the number of text messages she can send?
Take these questions seriously and answer them honestly — about the way things are now, not the way you'd like them to be. Ultimately, the decision belongs solely to you and your wife — not to your daughter, and certainly not to her friends.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service