Is My Teen Ready For A Cell Phone?


Is my teen old enough for a phone? 

For parents, this is the million-dollar question!

Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple. It really depends on the individual. 

With that in mind, here are some guidelines to help you determine if your teen is ready for a phone of their own. We've reviewed the research, spoken with parents, and tried various tactics in our own homes.

The Brain of a Teenager is Still Developing

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In kids and teens the area of the brain in charge of making decisions – the prefrontal cortex – is still developing. That’s why it can be a struggle for teens to manage the power of their own phones. Even as adults with fully formed brains, we have trouble cutting ourselves off from our phones.

Our brains' dopamine levels are stimulated by interactive screens, which results in us craving more screen time. For developing minds, this can be a real challenge.
Here’s our advice:

  • Wait to give your child a phone for as long as possible. 

When and if your teen asks for a phone, don’t rush to make a decision. Evaluate the pros and cons such as always being in touch with them versus the potential for them to be distracted in school. Both you and your child need to be ready for this step.

In order to prepare kids for real life, it’s important for children to engage with the actual world as often as they can:

  • Trust your instincts. 
  • If you or your child feels unprepared to handle the responsibility of owning a cell phone, those feelings are valid. 
  • Speak with other parents
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  • It is helpful to speak to other parents to learn about their personal experiences with kids and cell phones. In a one-on-one talk, other parents are more inclined to share what does and does not work and why.
  • Develop a self-evaluation for your family

    Ask questions like – What does being responsible mean? What does the term "emotionally mature" mean? 

Our children surprised us with a variety of excellent answers. And so will your kids!

  • Use a simple gadget first

    There is no magic age that determines when a youngster is ready for a cell phone, but research suggests 14 is a sensible minimum age for a simple feature smartphone. These phones have built-in safety features and are less stimulating.
  • Set ground rules

    Schedule a meeting for you, your spouse, and your teen to go over the ground rules of phone ownership once you've decided your teen is ready for their own device.

After buying your child a cell phone:

  • Review the self-assessment questions.

    The first time you give your teen access to a smartphone requires practice and instruction.

    The landscape is always changing. As kids and teens learn to use technology appropriately, we need to keep mentoring and advising them. 

What happens if I regret my decision to give my teen a phone?

You are not alone if you've given your teen a phone and it's not working out. 

You're a parent trying your best. You are exploring uncharted ground and learning as you go.

An important parental mantra for all of us: "I reserve the right to be wiser today than I was yesterday."
As a family, make a plan so that your child understands what steps they need to fulfill before they are granted phone ownership permission.

With Carrots&Cake you can help your children build positive screen time habits, minus the tantrums. Click here to learn more!