Why we won’t give our kids their first cell phone as a gift

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Our kids are 8 and almost-10, and the elder kiddo is getting to that age where her peers are starting to have cell phones and I expect some of her friends will get a cell phone as a gift at Christmas.  We are not opposed to them having cell phones, as long as they are given with certain expectations and parameters, and we know that each family has their own very personal reasons for choosing to give or not to give their children cell phones.  I was originally VERY against cell phones until middle school, but then I thought about high school French class and the European foreign exchange students we used to host.

In class, we were taught that it’s not uncommon for teens as young as 13 to have a glass of wine with family meals.  It is generally culturally acceptable, understanding that this gives them a responsible exposure to the art of enjoying in moderation.  We hosted students from France and the Czech Republic over the course of a handful of years, and this was pretty common for all of these families, as well.  (Note: we did not allow them to drink while they were staying with us, but we had conversations about how it was just not a big deal in their countries.). These cultures normalized it, instead of making it “taboo” and I thought “Why can’t we try to do the same with cell phone usage?”

We set specific rules, added in a lot of parental controls and restrictions, and our child had to agree to abide by these before we would even let her touch the phone.  (I can do another post about our rules and how it’s going if there is interest!  Let us know in the comments!)  She has anxiety and sometimes just discretely sending me a text during the day helps with it.  Honestly, many days she forgets it at home, and that’s ok.

(Author note: yes, I know there are many alternatives, such as a smartwatch, a Relay phone, A Gizmo, etc – trust me when I say I spent hours and hours researching and agonizing over this, and I drove my poor husband insane with the back and forth I had with myself.)

We chose a random Sunday to do it – I did not want to give her the cell phone as a gift or reward.  We want her to know that while we let her use it, it really belongs to us, and she should treat it as something she is borrowing.  We gave the cell phone, not as a gift, but as a tool.

It was my old phone, so we did go shopping to get a cute case for it (we had to make it a little fun!), and she is responsible for it, as she would be for her school Chromebook, but she knows it doesn’t really belong to her.  (Side note: since it’s not under a contract, she also knows that I can cancel the whole thing if there are ongoing issues.)

Down the road as a teen, she may get an upgrade as a gift, but that’s a handful of years away, and for her first device, I felt like a hand-me-down from her parents on a long-term loan seemed like a good fit for our family.  It reminded me of “my” first car – a brown 1985 Cutlass Ciera.  It was available to me to drive, but I knew it was my parents’ car.

I cannot reiterate this enough – it’s a very personal decision for every family.  I’m just sharing my perspective as to why we didn’t give our child a cell phone as a gift.  As the VSCO “kids” say these days… “You do you, Boo.”

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