What Parents Should Know About Getting a First Cell Phone for Kids

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Thinking about getting a first cell phone for kids? Here’s what you need to know first.

This post is sponsored by Tello. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Growing up, getting a cell phone for kids wasn’t something parents worried about.

Now, getting your kids’ first cell phone isn’t a question of “if”, but “when”.

It’s something I’ve been debating with my son for a while now.

He’s convinced he “needs” a phone but I’m still on the fence, mostly because I’m not sure he’s mature enough to handle it.

And if you have kids at home who don’t have a cell phone yet, chances are you’ve at least thought about it.

So this post is designed to help you weigh the pros and cons of getting a cell phone for kids.

And if you’re leaning toward the “get the kids first cell phone” side, then I’ve got an awesome money-saving tip you don’t want to miss!

When Should Kids Get Their First Cell Phone?

Kids First Cell Phone

That’s a really good question and ultimately, it’s up to you to decide when they’re ready for it.

In case you’re wondering, the average kid is 10 years old when they get their first cell phone. And 40% of Americans think 11 to 13 years old is the best time to consider a child’s first cell phone.

Since my kids are 11 and almost 13 and don’t have cell phones yet, I’m on board with that thinking.

But I know plenty of parents who get their kids’ first cell phone much younger. My ex-husband, for example, got his daughter her first cell phone when she was six.

And if you’re curious, here are some more numbers on kids’ cell phone use from Common Sense Media:

  • 53% of kids have their own cell phone by age 11
  • 69% of kids have a cell phone by age 12
  • 19% of 8-year-olds have a smartphone
  • Since 2015, the average age for a first cell phone has shifted from 13-14 years old to 11-12 years old

If you still have toddlers or elementary-aged kids, then getting a first cell phone may not be on your radar yet. But if you’re heading into the tween years, then it’s probably something to think about.

Are There Downsides to Giving Kids a Cell Phone?

Cell phones are convenient but it’s only natural to worry about the risks.

You might be concerned that having a cell phone could encourage kids to overdose on screen time, for example.

Or you may be worried about them seeing or posting inappropriate things on social media.

And of course, cyberbullying is another potential side effect that a cell phone could expose kids to.

So yes, there are some not-so-great things about letting kids have a phone. But there are some benefits as well that are worth weighing in the balance.

Kids First Cell Phone

Why Should You Give Your Child a Phone?

You might be wondering why you should even consider getting your child a cell phone, other than to get them to quit nagging you for one.

Here are some reasons why letting them have one could make sense.

1. It helps your peace of mind

Letting kids have a first cell phone makes it easier to stay in touch when you’re not together.

If your middle schooler is involved after school sports, for example, or they’re staying over at a friend’s house then having a phone lets you stay connected.

And a cell phone for kids can be a safety measure, too, since there are apps you can download to track locations for everyone in your family.

2. It can help your kids’ peace of mind, too

Having a cell phone can be reassuring for you but it can also be comforting to kids.

Once your kids hit their tweens, they may enter the “I don’t have parents” phase. My kids are there now and it’s oh so fun.

But there are still plenty of times when they may want to be able to call you if they need you.

And having their own cell phone makes that so much easier to do.

3. A first cell phone can teach responsibility

Getting a first cell phone is a big deal and as a parent, you should be guiding your kids on how to use it responsibly.

That means going over ground rules for things like:

  • How much time they’re allowed on the phone each day
  • Maintaining privacy online
  • What is and isn’t acceptable to share via social media
  • How to identify safe and unsafe apps

Giving kids a first cell phone is also a good opportunity to help them learn how to take care of something that may not be easily replaced.

4. Kids can stay connected with friends and family

Kids need friendships; that’s just a fact.

And having their first cell phone can help them strengthen friendships if they’re able to stay in touch with the people in their circle.

You can also use a cell phone to encourage kids to stay connected with grandparents and other family members.

For example, my kids use Google Duo to talk to their grandma who lives out of state. Since they only see her a few times a year, it really makes her day to be able to see them and chat.

5. Getting a cell phone for kids doesn’t have to be expensive

One thing that may be stopping you from agreeing to a cell phone for kids is cost.

And that’s understandable. The average family pays $160 to $180 a month for cell phone service.

That’s not exactly chump change, especially if you’re living on one income.

But the good news is that a kids’ first cell phone doesn’t have to break the bank.

There’s one super simple way to save money when getting kids a cell phone: Use Tello.


Cell Phone for Kids

What Is Tello?

Tello is a U.S.-based contract-free cell phone provider.

The company officially launched in 2016 but its parent company has been in the cell phone service business since 2002.

Tello offers its affordable cell phone service on the Nationwide Sprint network, featuring 4G LTE speeds.

Coverage is nationwide, with 282 million people reached. It even works in rural areas (like the sticks where I live!)

My Experience With Tello

I recently took Tello for a test run and if you’re curious about whether it’s worth looking into when getting a kids’ first cell phone, then you won’t want to skim over this part.

First, getting started with Tello was easy.

I just went to the website, created an account, selected a phone and a phone plan. In case you’re wondering, Tello works with most Sprint-compatible phones that have CDMA capabilities.

(I chose an iPhone since I’d never used one before and wanted to see how it worked.)

You can use your phone if you have one or you can buy a phone from Tello.

The prices are great, with some phones selling for under $50. But if you want to splurge on a new phone for yourself, there are also some options in the $500 range.

What kind of cell phone plans does Tello offer?

Tello offers two types of plans: Build Your Own and ready-made options.

Build Your Own plans are customizable; you can choose what combination of minutes, text and data you want.

Ready-made plans are already designed for you so you just have to pick the one that works best!

There’s also the option to get a Pay As You Go Plan if you need to make international calls and text so you can stay connected with anyone, just about anywhere

I chose the unlimited plan, which includes unlimited text, minutes and data for $39 a month. And I was impressed by the price since I currently pay $49 a month for the same kind of plan with Straight Talk.

From there, I checked out and waited for my phone to arrive, which took a few days. Once I got it, I logged on to my Tello account, activated the phone and boom–it was ready to use.

What’s good about Tello?

I live in a rural area where cell phone service can be spotty at times.

But I had no problems using Tello where I lived, either at home or while out running errands, which was great.

There were no dropped calls, I was able to send and receive texts with no issues and stay connected to the internet.

Aside from that, here’s what else I really liked about Tello during my trial run:

  • It’s stupid simple to sign up for cell phone service at Tello.com
  • The plan I chose was a money-saver compared to what I normally pay
  • Tello’s customer service responded quickly when I had a problem and they were super-friendly, too

Overall, I was totally impressed with Tello’s service and coverage.

Is Tello a good choice when getting a cell phone for kids?

Yes, for a few reasons.

Tello offers cell phone plans just for families and here’s what’s great about them:

  • Plans are customizable for every member of the family so you can pick and choose which features you want your kids to have
  • There are no contracts so if you decide a cell phone for kids isn’t working out, you can cancel at any time
  • Tello doesn’t charge activation fees, cancellation fees or overage fees
  • There’s no extra cost per line the way there is with contract cell phone plans
  • You can downgrade or upgrade your kids’ cell phone plan at any time
  • Plans start as low as $5/month

The cost alone is a major selling point, especially if you’re a one-income family like we are. I’m always looking for ways to save money which is why Tello caught my eye.

If you already have a contract cell phone plan then you might just consider adding your kids onto it when they’re ready for a first cell phone instead of going prepaid.

But based on my experience, I’ll be using Tello for my son once it’s time to get his first phone. The service exceeded my expectations, the price just can’t be beat and the flexibility to customize plans is awesome.

How to Manage a Cell Phone for Kids

Cell Phone for Kids

Deciding to get your kids their first cell phone can be a little nerve-wracking for you and for them. These tips can help you both feel good about it:

  • Limit the amount of time your child is allowed to use the phone each day
  • Keep the phone charger in a central location at night, not in your kids’ room
  • Do random checks of texts, photos and other phone content
  • Talk to your kids about what is and isn’t okay to post on social media
  • Consider using parental controls for apps
  • Set guidelines for which apps are or aren’t safe to download
  • Talk to kids about cyberbullying and what to do if they’re targeted
  • Educate kids on the risks of talking to strangers online and sharing information

Bottom line, getting a cell phone for kids is a big step and it isn’t one to take lightly.

Check out this guide from the FCC for more tips on helping kids navigate a first cell phone responsibly.


How to Decide If Kids Are Ready for a Cell Phone

Do your kids have a cell phone yet?

I’m still debating when to get my son his first cell phone. As for my daughter, she has zero interest in having a phone, for now at least.

But when they’re both ready for phones, I’ll be prepared to help them manage it.

Do your kids have a cell phone? If you said yes, what rules do you have for helping them use it responsibly?

And if you said no, what’s keeping you from pulling the trigger?

Head to the comments and tell me about it. And if you’re ready to get your kids their first cell phone, be sure to check out the money-saving family plan options from Tello!

22 thoughts on “What Parents Should Know About Getting a First Cell Phone for Kids”

  1. Omg, this info is so interesting! My baby is not even 1 year lol but I wonder how is it gonna be for him when the time comes… Thank you for sharing!

    • My son waited a little longer to ask for one but there are definitely younger kids who have them! And you’re right, it’s the “cool” thing to have for sure.

  2. I got my first two cell phones when they started middle school. They were now going to have longer bus rides and I may not be home when they got there because of my work schedule (they got home about 45 minutes earlier than the elementary school). It gave me peace of mind for sure but we have life 360 which I check all the time.

  3. This is interesting. Even though my kids are 4 and 6 years old, their dad and I have been arguing about giving them a phone since they were born (starting in their tween years). I think it’s the only thing that will bring me some peace of mind when they’ll go out.

    • My kids are always with me so they technically don’t need a phone I guess. But I know at some point they’ll have to get one once they’re driving.

  4. I am so happy you crafted this lost with the pros and cons of getting a child a cellphone. As an educator, I can tell you that by and large, we hate them. They are severe distractions and create rifts between students too. As you mention, we see an uptick in bullying as well. Now, I understand the necessity and agree, for children 10 and above, it may be necessary due to their involvement in extracurricular activities, but I struggle to see the value for younger children.

    • Thank you so much! Cell phones are useful and convenient but there are so many downsides to kids having them. So there are certainly pros and cons to weigh when getting a first cell phone for kids.

  5. I think that 11-13 years is a good time to get kids a cellphone. In reality, I would normally say highschool because of all the inherent dangers, but seriously, we can’t wrap our kids in a plastic bubble and protect them from everything. It’s normal for kids to have smartphones now and I think education is key and setting restrictions if you can.

    • I didn’t get a cell phone until college but that was in the “before” time when no one had them. Having guidelines and educating kids is key I think and I’m trying to do that with my own kids and their desires for a cell phone.

  6. Thanks for sharing a very detailed blog post. 11 is responsible for age in our household for having a mobile phone. And we also make them sign a responsible usage contract so that they can understand the importance and consequences of having a mobile phone.

  7. This is such a great post to get parents to really think through this decision carefully. I’ve worked as a school counselor from K-12 and have seen a lot of regret and hurt come from kids not using technology responsibly. Kids (especially you ones) do not often have the ability to understand the permanency of their actions on a cell phone!

    • Thanks so much! That is so true about kids not understanding the ins and outs of how to use a cell phone responsibly without guidance. They’re tools, not toys and it’s easy to forget that!

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