When is a Cell Phone Age Appropriate?

My 12 year old daughter has been asking us for a cell phone because everyone else has one. She also insists that she needs text messaging. I was wondering how the Beyond BT community has dealt with this issue.

Are the rules the same for boys because my 10 year old will be entering this parsha in a few years?

– SR

54 comments on “When is a Cell Phone Age Appropriate?

  1. Since this came up, I want to send a public service message to wear that helmet while biking.

    As a kid, I was careening down the sidewalk on my new Sears two-wheel bike with coaster brake, when I found myself headed straight for a street light pole without enough time to stop or turn. Thank G-d, I was able to bail out cleanly before the bike (now without me) rammed into the pole with enough force to bend the bike’s front fork. That was the kind of occasion when a helmet would have been a Mighty Good Thing. As it was, I had nothing worse than scratches, but it could have been ugly.

    By the way, here’s a great story about a friend of ours who recently biked from Detroit to Lakewood to raise money for Ptach. Note the helmet.

  2. Bas Yisroel — definitely, parents need to evaluate whether something is worthwhile to allow, regardless of whether it is free or cheap or expensive. No question.

    My point was that it is very convenient that my children have cellphones, both for them and for the rest of the family. The main potential downside I was concerned about was financial. So, despite the convenience and peace of mind that cellphones offer, I would not have gotten them for anyone in the family if they hadn’t fit into our tight budget. I have certainly not seen other downsides yet (aside from the radiation, which has been worrying me more lately), but I have seen many advanatages.

    ChanaLeah, in your last paragraph in comment 48, you make a very believable point. I have seen this phenomenon in other areas. Thanks for the warning!

  3. When I was in Israel this spring, it seemed like everyone was on their cell phone every minute. I went to the kosel to pour out my heart and a frum woman was talking on her cell phone, right in front of the kosel. Of course I am supposed to be don lekaf zechus, must be a real emergency, etc. I suppose that in Israel the children are allowed to travel on buses at young ages, for many it’s their only way to get around. So this is perhaps why the kids are allowed cell phones. Here in the U.S. it is ususally not necessary for a grade school kid to have a cell phone. By the way, just because the cell phone is free or you got a good deal doesn’t mean it is good for your child or the right thing to do. Each parent must evaluate what is best for their family.

  4. BTW, I am pointing out these negative features with the assumption that most people realize the undeniable value of having a cell for emergencies, scheduling, transportation needs, etc. One thing that comes to mind are the systems now in place in which the members of an entire corporation, or university, or government offices, or emergency response unit, etc. can all receive a concurrent cell phone call advising them of an emergency situation (ie. terror attack) and instructing them what steps to take. The point is most people today don’t really need to hear the reasons why we need cell phones. But it’s troubling that the age at which kids are starting cell use is getting younger, while the cell phone features & capabilities are ever- expanding, and I don’t see any real means of controlling the results.

  5. “Most educators, psychologists and “parenting experts” agree that helicopter parenting is not healthy as it removes all responsibility and decision making from the child.”

    Except, that is, when they decide a child needs a classroom “shadow” hovering over them, a solution that has grown so popular lately, and seems to cover a much wider range of classroom “problems”. (Not talking here about real disabilities which would prevent a child from being in the school otherwise).

    One other note concerning many of the heshbonos that parents make with kids as they hand over the first cell phone–we also did this and have several years of hindsight to comment about it. My advice: a kid will agree to just about any terms to get that cell, and for a while they will probably go along happily with the contract. But beware as time passes, things change; it may be the technology, may be the friends, may be forgotten limitations, may be any number of circumstances, and the child’s cell usage may enter the danger zone. Kids go through big changes between 12 and 18, and even beyond there. Just an observation based on experience, obviously many kids will never suffer these challenges.

  6. Besides any “frumkeit” issues, I just don’t get why so many people are so casual about the cultural and developmental implications of having a little kid carry around a cell phone. Besides the fact that such an experience is so utterly strange to my conception of childhood, why isn’t that the essence of “helicopter parenting”? Can’t a kid want to just play for a while without being absolutely reachable every second of the day, along with exposure to risk of scolding for the panic induced if he chas v’sholom doesn’t pick up when dialed by Imma? Gosh, I used to disappear from breakfast till dinner of a summer’s day, gone on my bike and with no darned helmet on, either!

    I know. At this point I guess I just sound old!

  7. I have only raised kids in Israel, so I don’t completely understand the American perspective and what is different about Israeli kids. Most 12yo’s I know have a cell phone, and it isn’t considered much of a big deal.

    My daughter got a cellphone when she was 10 or 11, and it has been a big convenience to her and to us. She uses it the way her parents do — to quickly conduct business, not to chat. She almost never uses text messaging, since it’s easier to just call. (Why is text messaging so popular among teens? Isn’t it easier and more fun to call?) I will admit that we got her a phone in part because we got a very attractive deal from my husband’s work. Otherwise, we would probably have waited. (For that matter, we would have waited to get cellphones for ourselves). But it is nice that she has it. It has made all kinds of situations easier.

    My children’s schools do not prohibit cellphones, but of course they are not allowed to be on during class (and officially recess too, but the teachers usually turn a blind eye to that). If a phone rings during class, it is confiscated until the end of the day.

    My 11yo son just got a cellphone. We have explained to him that the phone is for conducting business, not to play on. He will (B’ezrat HAshem) have three younger brothers in his school this year. I am glad that they will have a convenient way to reach me if necessary. (There is one pay phone at school, and it doesn’t always work. And there is usually a line to use it when it does work).

    I do have concerns about radiation. I am also concerned about ballooning expenses. But the kids understand that they are expected to keep their calling short and on topic. So far our kids’ cellphone expenses have been negligible — maybe 10 NIS a month, at most.

  8. Well, as we have said before, there is much to recommend avoiding epithets in these discussions, seeing as how one man’s helicopter-parenting may be another’s subterranean homesick blues. (Just as everyone driving slower than I am is an “idiot” and everyone driving faster is a “maniac.”) Better to argue the points than label them…

  9. Helicopter parenting, in my understanding, describes the parent who is constantly hovering over their child and swooping down to remove their child from any situation which involves difficult (and even not so difficult) choices. Most educators, psychologists and “parenting experts” agree that helicopter parenting is not healthy as it removes all responsibility and decision making from the child.

    I wouldn’t consider your personal rules vis a vis cell phones to be helicopter parenting since it involves a critically important issue about which most schools have already issued regulations and about which children cannot make their own well reasoned decisions.

  10. David Linn, you’re right. I did not choose my words carefully. IJ, no one has to explain anything to me, you’re right. There are many children to play with besides mine.

    I don’t know what “helicopter style” parenting is. I do know that before cell phones, telephone communication in Israel was little more accessible or reliable than carrier pigeon though, and as you say there are other differences in terms of what people’s options are in terms of staying in touch. To the extent there are differences in terms of following rules between my household and others, and perhaps between Israelis and Americans, that’s a topic beyond this thread, I think!

  11. But we aren’t talking about high school age kids, we are talking about a twelve year old. By the way, when my daughter was in seminary in Israel the seminary had the girls only use a cell phone with a hechsher.

  12. Dovid:
    It’s really amazing to see him turn away from billboards or magazine covers or even immodestly clad woman in the shopping center. What a far cry from my own values as a child
    – – – – – – – – –
    Yes, it’s amazing. My oldest takes off his glasses when we are in downtown Tel-Aviv.

    Wow, what is the disconnection here? We have boys going into 12th, 9th and 4th grades and no cell phones at all. Both schools and all summer camps involved prohibit them and so do we.
    – – – – – – – – – –
    This style of “helicopter parenting” has not caught on here in Israel – thank G-d. Young people are more independent, and I think that is good (even though as an American-born parent I still cringe at the thought of my son hitch-hiking home from yeshiva).

    I don’t know if it is because the general society is healthier, or because observant people are a much higher percentage of the population, or because the security situation makes people nervous, but… most high-school age kids that I know here – including very frum yeshivish kids – have cell phones.

  13. I totally understand and agree with complying with the rules of one’s school. I just don’t think that a family who gives their fourth grader a cell phone needs to justify or explain their “compelling and unusual story” to me. In other words, it isn’t particularly my business if there is a real reason for the cell phone (the mother works and needs to contact the child, etc.) or a frivolous one.

  14. IJ, not quite. I am not an advocate of zero- tolerance policies. (OK, Linn?) Also, I did not speak of severing relationships, merely “this is not a child you will hang out with.” Naturally for the high school boys, it’s different in theory (we are strict believers in compliance with the rules of any institution to which you entrust your child’s education). But I consider a fourth grader with a cell phone, short of a compelling and unusual story, a red flag.

  15. Thank you, ChanaLeah. I hear you. I’ve spoken with my son about it a bit. He understands why I have issues with his friend. Fact is, the parents are the one’s who had made the decision to send their son out of town to the school that he now attends. Perhaps they don’t see the changes that I do. I can’t really know.
    My son hasn’t been shy about speaking up to his friend; suggesting that he not speak out of place nor be so bold in his critiquing of established practices in our community. Boys can be somewhat brash at 15, and so we’ve been quite patient with this boy. We feel he is trying his best to legitimize his new modern opinions (be they misguided or misunderstood) in a sort of “in your face” manner. We know it is only immaturity and a bit of rebeliousness. We’re concerned about him, and that is why I am considering having a chat with his father.

  16. Dovid:
    Having been on both sides of the fence you describe, and understanding your position, can I suggest that the best course of action is probably investing in strengthening your own child’s emunah in the face of such influences as may come his way throughout his life? If you do have to come between the two friends, it is worthwhile to be sure your son does not resent this enough to turn against the value system that necessitated the split….

  17. I can understand Ron’s feelings towards a child’s friend who has a cell phone. It’s likely not the idea of having a “portable phone”, but more likely the other features that many (if not most) new cell phones offer as “standard accessories”, such as web access, text messaging, email, etc. Exposure to these devices and other trendy or “cool” entertainment can tear down years of effort on parent’s and teachers parts to instill a Torah-true outlook on life. I’ve seen it happen first hand…

    I am considering taking a drastic action regarding a very close friend of my son, who visits us on Shabbos and talks about going to movies, going to the mall, visiting cool web sites, etc. This boy is attending a very liberal “yeshiva” in NJ, and I have seen him transform from a nice yeshivishe boy into I don’t know what. My son has been friends with him for 7 or 8 years. But his parents decided “he’s not going to be a Rabbi, so we’re sending him to a place where he’ll have a better secular education and go to college”.
    In just a year or two, he has completely changed into the kind of young man I do want my son spending time with. The hoshkofa he has picked up on is 180 degrees away from the values and direction we want for our son. I am planning on contacting his parents to discuss things. It may be the hardest thing I’ve had to do in a long time…

  18. Ron, you would really have your child sever a friendship with another child whose parents deemed it appropriate for them to have a cell phone?

  19. “Wow, what is the disconnection here?”

    Perhaps that different people have different children, different needs and make different decisions.

  20. Ron, regarding one of the schools you are referring to, the (girls) parent handbook simply places cell phones under a list of “Things not to bring to school”, and on another page reminds that cell phones have internet & video capabilities which can be accessed even if you do not include them on your plan. This is not the same as a ban, which is closer to what you seem to have in force in your home, as in no use 24/6 and severing relationships with kid’s friends who have them.

  21. Wow, what is the disconnection here? We have boys going into 12th, 9th and 4th grades and no cell phones at all. Both schools and all summer camps involved prohibit them and so do we. If we were to learn that a friend of our younger children had his own cell phone that would be “ex-friend.”

    At one point I represented the Vaad Hayeshivos in litigation involving certain business aspects of the U.S. version of the “kosher phone,” and the leaders of that effort could not be restrained from sharing the true accounts of the damage that the misuse of cell phones, mainly involving texting but certainly with browsing capability, has wreaked on frum homes. I understand that most adults need them, and I myself carry a pretty fancy model myself, which is essential for my work. But I can’t fathom how the sense of this thread is so overwhelmingly tolerant or approving of placing these very adult tools into the hands of young children!

  22. Ben-David:

    We cannot keep our post bar/bas mitzva chidren from “knowing” what’s out there. We CAN raise them to have innate sense of what to stay away from or avoid as best they can; a natural impulse to stear clear of those things which they have been raised to understand are assur. I see it with my own 15-year-old son. It’s really amazing to see him turn away from billboards or magazine covers or even immodestly clad woman in the shopping center. What a far cry from my own values as a child…

  23. This is a very good discussion. What I think is interesting is that the twelve year old girl wants and NEEDS text messaging. She NEEDS it? For what reason does she NEED it. I think kids nowadays have gotten a little (a lot) spoiled, and I am guilty of spoiling my kids as well! It is a different generation. But I do like the idea that kids should earn some money to get what they NEED. Or do their chores in the house.

  24. Here in Israel there is a very clear demarcation point for many boys: when they go off to yeshiva high school, which often involves a dormitory.

    I got my son basic prepaid phone and SMS service, on an older model phone. We had cost containment and he had a lesson in the value of money. Later on he bought additional minutes from his allowance, and finally upgraded his phone and service plan when he was working and had money of his own.

    I think people are deluding themselves if they think they can keep a post-Bar/Bat Mitzvah child from knowing about anything “out there”.

  25. I began getting cell phones for both girls when the need arose,not because of “peer pressure”, because they really didn’t demand the phones. The “need’ was when they were out on their own, we should have some way of making sure everything is ok, and to know where they are. My girls most definitely don’t care about “bells and whistles” just because they’re “cool”. We all used to have Tracfone, but then my oldest got an AT&T because she was using up the minutes too fast.


  26. Thanks, Mark. I appreciate your comments. My point was that teens are easy prey for trendy toys and fads. The more careful a school is in eliminating these things from their midst, the better IMO. All the more so should we parents be careful to control these accessories in our children’s lives outside of school. It is indeed a narrow path that we walk, but walk it we must…chazak!

  27. Dovid, there is a strong bein adam l’chaveiro component among girls, at least in the schools my daughters have attended. When developed properly these friendships enhance a girl’s Torah value life. Friendship is a deep Torah value.

    Of course that doesn’t mean anything goes, but I think it’s wise not to ignore the socialization aspect of teenagers growing up.

    I’m don’t think cell phones are in of themselves anti-Torah, but they can draw somebody away from Torah, so I concur with the early commentators of being aware of the potential dangers.

  28. Mark Frankel:

    If one is considered to be “somewhat of a social outcast” because she does not have a cell phone (or any other trendy accessory), then its time to find another school to attend. One where Torah values are not only learned, but practiced.

  29. There has been recent reports in the news about cell phones and the radiation they emit. They are saying that this is especially dangerous for young children and teens. There has been an increase in brain cancer and cancer of the mouth and salivatory glands. Scary.

  30. And ‘single mom’ isn’t the only one with “unique circumstances”; a friend with a large family has older kids (not yet driving) who have taken public transportation to the library, or home from school, or to SEED classes, and it’s a safety issue for the child as well as comfort level for the mom that she knows that they arrived safely – or got reasonably delayed, but are fine. And it isn’t the child’s phone, it’s Mom’s phone, on loan – and the child KNOWS that misuse of the phone would also mean no more priviledge to go wherever it was (or waiting until Mom can pick him up).

    Out of town, smaller community is SO not the same as NYC.

  31. Any decision of this nature requires deep thought before saying “no”. That doesn’t mean that someone might not get to “no” but, to me, it means realizing that “no” also has ramifications.

  32. I agree with David and Single Mom that every situation is a child by child decision, but we have to be cautious and aware of the overall pitfalls.

    In the case of cell phones and text messaging the early commentators on this thread discussed some of the dangers and there are more.

    To me a tough question is how restrictive can we be. If your daughter goes to a school where most girls truly do have phones at her age, what are the ramifications of denying her a phone. If being somewhat of a social outcast is the cost of no phone, is that a price we should make her pay? Is it a consideration?

  33. David,

    Yes, a lot of parenting issues need to be decided on a case by case basis. It would be nice if people would remember that everyone’s circumstances differ.

  34. I am a widow raising a 13 year old son. Because of our unique circumstances, my son is forced to be more independent than most boys his age. For us, having a cell phone is a necessity – it allows us to reach each other 24/6.

  35. Just as an aside, I find the frum communities I have lived in are generally lagging behind in acknowledging what the kids are into. Our society encourages and facilitates easy technological access to many forms of social communication. For example while a school may still be warning it’s families to stay away from television, the kids may have already sampled text messaging, facebook, myspace, youtube, etc.

    The goals of the communications industry is in direct opposition to the goals of the Jewish community–that is, new technologies are springing up continuously whose sole purpose is to make communication between people easier.

    Our kids learn about these technologies long before the adults in the Jewish communities acknowledge them, learn how they work, and try to address them by putting controls in place.

  36. Unfortunately this issue is much larger than most of the comments here suggest. A cell phone is the first step of loss of control over your child’s social life. This may well lead to disaster; but I’m not sure if there is any real way to prevent it. For example, if the child is determined to get the phone because the friends have it, while just saying no is often good parenting, the issue may not end there.

    This is not about some lavish toy that the child can just do without. Eventually they will probably own one, as the majority of people around them do. It could begin a rebellion, and one should be ready for that. And as anyone with experience down this road can tell you, rebellion does not only happen in “dysfunctional” families. It also happens in dysfunctional communities and dysfunctional schools.

    If the friends have the phone, your child may just use her friend’s phone to do whatever her friends are doing on the phone.

    Please understand this fact: Banning it in the home doesn’t mean your child will not have access. You will have a better chance if the community you live in attacks this as a communal issue and most families do not allow it, or set standards.

  37. I pretty much agree with David and would add that it also depends on the situation.

    When we lived in the US one of our daughter commuted from NJ to Brooklyn every day. She started the commute just before 9/11. After 9/11 the traffic was horrendous. It was important to us for her to have a phone so we could be apprised of her status. She was allowed to have it in her Beis Yaakov so she just kept in her locker during the day.

    Here in Israel kids are more travel independent at younger ages than in the US. And I think the need is greater and there are obvious reasons for greater parental concern as to there whereabouts.

    There is always the “kosher phone” option to limit extra features and cost. However, my wife and I are big fans of text messaging. (We feel it’s a less intrusive way to communicate.)

    In general if we teach our kids how to responsibly use these indispensable tools maybe they’ll grow up to use them more maturely than some of our adult peers.

  38. > They teach impatience, disrespect, egocentrism, and downright rudeness.

    But blogging is ok.

  39. FWIW, the public schools in New York City ban them completely. (If we were to ban them, would that be a violation of chukat hagoyim?)

  40. I think many of the precautions being raised here are valid but I’m surprised to see so much black and white.

    IMHO, this is a child by child decision. The answers to the following questions are important:

    Why does the child want the phone? (Because everyone else has one is probably a good reason NOT to get one)

    Is the child otherwise responsible?

    Are there common situations in which having the phone will be a safety benefit?

    How does the child’s school feel about the issue?

    How has the child previously handled issues that require restraint?

    If the child’s friends do gave cell phones, speak to their parents and teachers to see how they feel about it and what issues have arisen and what precautions have been taken.

    If one does decide to give a child a cell phone, there really should be some very clear rules, (many of which have already been mentioned) such as:

    There should be no expectation of privacy since you will be checking through the phone logs, text messages, etc.

    Any school or home imposed cell phone rules that are broken will result in the phone being taken away

    It may also be a good idea, should you decide to get your child a phone, to explain that the phone is yours, not theirs and that you will be using it from time to time. Finally, most providers will allow you to customize your plan to exclude numerous options such as texting and 3 way calling. In no circumstances should a child be given a cell phone with internet access.

  41. My kids don’t have one. My wife doesn’t have one. I don’t have one. I wish my students in school didn’t have them (and so does every administrator in the country).

    I despise them. They teach impatience, disrespect, egocentrism, and downright rudeness. They’re fine for emergencies, if you can get a plan that effectively limits usage (assuming such a thing exists).

    My daughter is getting one when she goes to Israel this year which, of course, makes perfect sense. Otherwise, just say NO.

  42. check first with the schools. most of the frum schools have strict rules against it, as it was deemed to be a risk factor for a teen becoming “at risk”. That said, I gave one to a kid at 16 – before that it is just a toy but at that age she had jobs to go to. I made her discuss it with her principal first and get permission and she has to turn it in to the school office each morning as part of the agreement. Giving something to a teen, because she wants what “everyone has” means that the teen will do what “everyone does”, which can be a nightmare if her friends start dating and hanging out. If you do decide to give it to her, explain that there is zero privacy attached to it — you will check her messages and the numbers she calls (do reverse lookup or call some numbers randomly). Just a word for the wise, once the genie is out of the bottle, you can’t put him back in. It is far easier not to go down this road and find disaster, then to “try it out” and find out she is texting the wrong crowd a few years later. Once she is hooked into the wrong crowd, there is no turning back to the times before she had the phone, even if at that point you confiscate it.

  43. Cell phones are age appropriate when they start to drive. Younger than that it is just a toy that has no positive side, only distraction, and possibly worse. Text messaging is an issue.

    The same thing happened to us several years ago when IMing first came out. The child “had to have it, just to speak to friends.” Well we discovered later that members of the opposite sex were trying to contact this child, and sometimes their screen names were fake. My child got drawn into this quite innocently but it could have been disastrous. We quickly banned it from the house, with a lot of uproar, but at least the issue disappeared.

    I don’t see cell phones as different.

  44. I don’t know where you live but I know that about eight years ago we got one for our daughter and it was a disaster. These kids text eachother all the time and boys start to hit on them. Its bad news. Good luck

  45. I will allow my child to have a cell phone (if she ever wants one) if she pays for it herself. I would also only have her get a pre-paid service like Tracfone. I don’t think a cellphone is necessary at all. I do own one myself, but I see the $8/month I pay at Tracfone as a luxury, not a necessity.

Comments are closed.