Kids and Cell Phones

Kids and Cell Phones

When should your kid get a cell phone? Each of our boys received one, of the most basic sort (not an iPhone) when they entered middle school. Here in Boulder, middle school starts in sixth grade. When I grew up we called it junior high and it began in seventh grade. This town is a little fast for me, but that’s another story.

I thought sixth grade was a bit early for the privileges of a cell phone. Still, I enjoyed the “electronic leash” that I now had on the boys. It gave them more freedom, and it gave me more control (maybe that means it actually gave them less freedom). I now could reach them whenever I wanted.

The luxury of having a cell phone (did you know there are more cell phones per person on this planet than toilets?!) comes with a host of responsibilities for parents and their teenagers. Kids and cell phones aren’t necessarily a great combination to say the least.

The bright screen on a cell phone can disrupt circadian rhythms in the body and interfere with melatonin production, which can in turn wreak havoc upon sleep. Screens in the bedroom are not a good idea for adults or children. As I mentioned in my post on natural sleep remedies, when I built our new house I created a cell phone station for the boys at our mail desk, and one for myself in our mudroom. In the mudroom, I designed cubbies with outlets for charging cell phones. I happily use my station every night. My cell phone does not come in the bedroom with me.

How to Control and Limit Your Child’s Cell Phone Usage

1. Answer Your Phone When I Call

The only reason you have a cell phone is so I can speak with you.

2. Tuck in Your Cell Phone at Bedtime

Cell phones are not permitted in the bedrooms at night.

3. Your Phone is Grounded

If you forget to tuck your phone in, you lose it for one day, maybe more if we think you need a bit of reinforcement with this consequence.

4. Old Fashioned Alarm Clocks in Bedrooms

All of our bedrooms have alarm clocks that do not glow in the dark so that we can get a good night sleep and set them for when we need to wake up, rather than use the alarm on the phone.

5. Misbehave and Lose Your Cell Phone

Given how much kids love ’em, this is a fabulous consequence.

This generation of children does not know what it’s like to live without information, and the devices that provide it instantly, at their fingertips. We are conducting a mass experiment on the brains of the young. Who knows how it will turn out? Unlike my generation, this crop of kids is paperless and fully wired. They don’t covet books, they read on a screen. To me this is weird. I still read paper books and I love the feel, smell, and look of them.

Here’s an example of some generational differences. On a sunny summer afternoon one of my sons and his friend Mason decided to go tubing on Boulder Creek (just a few blocks from our house). They had on their swimsuits, and inner tubes in hand were about to run out the door. Then they realized they could not take their phones on this creek adventure. Cell phones have almost become an appendage when it comes to our children. The boys were concerned. They asked how I would reach them. Go without your phones, I said. Enjoy an afternoon of doing whatever you want, and enjoy that you will be free and that I won’t know exactly where you are. This was a new concept to them. They had a look of bewilderment in their eyes as they walked out the door, ready to lap up some good old fashioned, cell phone-free fun.

I have many cell phone free moments, and hours. Stay tuned for my upcoming post, How I Saved Myself from My Cell Phone. In the meantime, leave a comment and let us know how you handle your kids and their cell phones. What’s your favorite strategy?


  1. Erin says

    My son is in 5th grade and started middle school this year. I felt as you did, I held out until Christmas. The middle school does not communicate like elementary and he stayed after for clubs and extra help etc…Having his own phone made it much easier to communicate. Phone is never allowed in his room, always downstairs. He is not allowed to carry it on his person ALL THE TIME, it has to approved by me or dad. (When we go to dinner shopping etc…) He is only allowed approved contacts. I pay monthly 4.99 with Verizon. I see every text and phone call. I also set the times with the program of when he can use the phone. After 645 am until 700pm, then Verizon shuts it off. I use the phone as a tool for good behavior. For example if I’m recognizing for positive, I will add time or if needed subtract. I will also take the phone away if it is warranted.

  2. Courtney says

    My boys (12 and 10) have basic phones for talk and text (no pictures or emojis) mainly so they can reach us while skiing, playing in the neighborhood, etc. It seems my 6th grader is one of the few in his circle without an iPhone and data. Due to the lack of features on their ZTE $0.99 phones, they are not attached to the to them and I usually have to remind them to charge/bring it with them.

  3. Amy Merideth says

    If anything I have trouble getting my boys to remember their phones! They were just never into them and my oldest had a flip phone until he graduated college. My youngest has the most basic service, no data plan and generally forgets his phone 50% of the time. They didn’t even want anything more than that.

    I think the best tip is to avoid data plans, and get a boring phone. I find that I can hardly tear patients away from their phones even during their medical appointments. I am trying to conduct a medical exam and ask them to put their phone away and they resist. It’s bizarre!

    • Elana says

      Hi Amy, thanks so much for your comment! That’s very unfortunate that your patients resist putting down their phones. Great to see you here continuing the Colby Drive connection :-)

  4. Danielle says

    I love this post and I’m looking forward to your follow up post on saving yourself from your cell phone! I just ordered the alarm clock so I can stop keeping my cell phone on my nightstand overnight, but I’ll still charge it overnight in our bedroom since we don’t have a land line and I want to be reachable in case of emergency. Do you have a land line in your house? We haven’t had one in years, but I’m beginning to think there are some practical reasons to bringing it back.

  5. Venus says

    Thanks for this post Elana. I struggle with the phone issue every day with my teenage daughter (14.5 now), my friends and myself! After reading your post I went on Amazon to buy an alarm clock and came back empty handed. Do you use battery operated or plug in clocks? Which is the lesser of evils? I read ages ago that having a clock plugged in near your body (especially your head) disrupts sleep. But I hate to waste all those batteries … And then there’s the ticking, or the brightness or the blinking. I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. I actually ended up here because I want to make something with almonds, chocolate and xylitol and I ended up reading about phones. Go figure!

    • Elana says

      Hi Venus, thanks for your comment! For info on the alarm clock I use in our bedrooms click the words “alarm clock” (in #4 of this post) and you will be taken to the exact product I keep in our home :-)

  6. Libbie says

    Love this! I am actually praying that my kids spouses are not growing up tied to phones, that their parents are protecting them from the porn at hand :) (I hear story after story from my friends who give their very good, Christ loving boys, phones.) We have “family devices” they can use only in the family room when others are around or in the kitchen. No phones until they drive & simple phones at that. Good job mama!

  7. Faigy says

    Great article! My kids don’t get cell phones until they drive. And they don’t start driving until they have graduated high school. If they need to be picked up, they call from the school office or pay phone ;) It eliminates a lot of issues because they are basically adults at that point. Some complained that they were the only one without a phone, most just accepted it.

    • Sandra Roberts says

      The only problem we have here where I live is that there are no phone booths anymore. Maybe a few in the whole city. And we have just over a million people here so even those phones are usually vandalized. Sometimes a cheap phone with a super cheap plan is a safer solution. Some phones can have preset numbers in them with no data plan and the parents can program the working numbers in. My coworker has two kids with phones that cost about $10 – 15/month. I think this solution works best. It’s limited use and you can still regulate the use of the phone. Maybe a good policy would be ‘no use of the phone in the house, in class or in a social occasion’. When the kids walk in the door all phones go into a small basket or drawer in the front hall or kitchen. When they leave they pick it up.

  8. Rachel says

    We have pretty much the same rules in our house (blended family with five kids, 17 to 7 – only the eldest has a cell). After some issues recently with the eldest child, we had all the kids sign and electronic device contract to include cell phones, iPods, XBox, etc. It clearly states the rules of the house regarding electronic devices (earning a certain GPA, completed homework, turning in devices at bed time, clean rooms, behavior) and the consequences for not following those rules. After the problems we’ve had, specifically with cell phones, we have decided that none of the kids will get cell phones until they are driving.

  9. Mary wright says

    We have very similar ways in our home, phones are docked upon entering the house, we allow 1 hour screen time week days, 7-8 and 2 hours on weekends, 7-9pm we have friends that allow free use of mobiles etc, and the kids are on them 24/7, they sleep really late and are super lazy all weekend, its so sad to see them with no energy and no imagination. I was determined this was not going to happen to us.

  10. Kari says

    I find all of these details very interesting and helpful. I myself do not have a cell phone, nor do my children ages 15-9, but my traveling-husband and 21 year-old-small-business-woman-daughter do. Before we were married, my husband and I read Jane Healy’s book, ENDANGERED MINDS, which greatly affected our decisions regarding electronics. The biggest difference between my family and another with cell phones is that we have to plan ahead, since we don’t have phones to use like walkie-talkies.

  11. Marilee says

    We have two daughters. Both received their cell phones when they turned 14!!! We received lots of complaints from them about being the last ones in their grade to have a cell phone. If the girls were going mountain biking or to a friends on their bikes then they could borrow my phone.

    We have a charging station in the laundry room. Our router turns off the internet at 10 on the school nights and 11 on F & SA. She’s in 10th grade so she has had to work up to this time. We started out at 9 pm in 7th and 8th grade. If she has to print out a paper for school, she can plug the printer into her laptop.

    I did read your write up about computer screens and both girls have downloaded f.lux so that the computer dims with the time of day.
    I don’t know if they use the software but I know they downloaded it.

  12. Holland Franklin says

    Hi, and thank you for such a rational approach to cell phone use. If I could add something else, it would be to discourage kids from EVER holding one to their heads. There are too many people with brain and other tumors adjacent to where a cell phone has been placed on the head, and despite what some call “inconclusive” research, just the fact there is such a strong association with long-term use and possible tumors to some part of the head or throat, seems like enough to be extraordinarily careful with how anyone actually talks on a cell phone. Kids are more vulnerable to effects because their brains are not mature yet and because they have the potential for longer overall use throughout their lifetime. Kids also tend to feel like they won’t have an issue because they haven’t yet had any experiences that make them feel their mortality. I have two sons, I know the territory.. Read the research on This site has research from MDs and scientists showing hazards of long-term cell phone use. Kids are going to use them, but keeping them away from their precious heads is really important. If we wait for everyone to agree on the risk factors it may be too late for some, and do we really want to be wrong about this? Thank you!

  13. Kathie says

    Refreshing! So much thought on how to be a responsible parent in this area. I am nearly 70. When we were raising our young…( ? You parents of today?).. We had no cell phones but I had rules about the land line.

    * No phone in the bedroom…use the one in the kitchen. Contrary to some opinion…Teens doid not need a large scope of privacy. Probably that is still a good idea. LOL: Amazing what having your mom in the kitchen where the phone is…does to Friday night and weekend planning. Also limited distractions during study hrs. I answered the phone and took a message.
    *We also did not install more than one TV …and it was in the great room. There was a 17 foot ceiling and lots of room. We did have a VCR…and husband and I easily gave way to the kids in that room on the weekends. After my oversight all week…they deserved it…and we sprung for all the snacks too.

    Today’s parents now have peer pressure to balance being the parent…with these techno advanced times. My daughters now struggle knowing how they were raised…and recognize that probably won’t work for them today. ?

    • Elana Amsterdam says

      Hi Kathie, thanks for your comment! I agree with you about the scope of privacy vis a vis teens. On another note, as you can see from the photo above, the boys and their friends like to hang out at our place, and like you, we spring for the snacks. I really enjoy feeding them healthy, homemade grain-free snacks and treats :-)

  14. Pamela says

    First off I want to say thank you Elana for this post, I am a parent of a 12 1/2 year old girl who is one of the last to get a cell phone in her 7th grade class. She will be getting one soon so I appreciate you sharing your guidelines. Parenting children in this time is so different than when we as parents grew up that is feels often wrong or in the least very weird. I have resisted and fought against technology interfering with our precious moments spent talking face to face and I will continue to have stick guidelines. It bothered me immensely how early kids were getting phone upon entering middle school, then it bothered me more that parents felt they needed one, which has now made it a somewhat “Need” to fit in. Cell phone will always be a part of them unless they make a conscious choice for it not to be. I have decided that educating our daughter about proper cell phone edicate and having boundaries with its use is the way to make her owning one work for our family.Keep the articles coming!!

  15. Clare says

    My boys have had cel phones since junior high as they were very busy with school, sports and scouts. They are in their early 20’s now. They do enjoy a “real” book and will make time to crack a new one open and enjoy the smell!

  16. Tracy says

    I live up in Steamboat, and my son got a basic call only cell phone when he was 10, the year I started letting him ski on the mountain alone with a friend.(with restrictions to that, but still). I wanted him to be able to call me if he was in trouble. He’s 12 now and still not very attached to his phone.Most of the time it’s plugged into the wall and not used. Lately he has gotten interested in road biking and he takes his phone then (again, to call if there is a problem when he is miles from town on his road bike). Lately he’s been using it on weekends to call friends and plan sleep overs and what not. Most of the time though, I’m the one telling him to take his phone with him, because I want to be able to call him.
    My daughter is 9 and will turn 10 this winter. She is in no way ready for the independence of skiing alone on the mountain with a friend. Still very attached at the hip to me, so she won’t be getting a cell phone anytime soon. She doesn’t need it.

  17. Judy says

    Pretty much the same way you have.

    We got the most basic phones with just enough minutes for them to call home or us to call them if we were running late. ( The cell phone was to let me know when I was to be there to pick them up after school activities.) They wanted more minutes they had to buy them. Their phone was mine, if a teacher ever had to confiscate it because they had it out during school. Let your grades fall; you don’t need a phone because you won’t be participating in extra-curricular activities until your grades come back up to acceptable levels. (I actually had to do that one; he didn’t believe me for some reason.) No phones at the dinner table or during family activities.

    And I have other old-fashion ideas to go with those!

    • kristina says

      Our daughter entered middle school last year and we finally got her a phone about half way through the school year. So many of her classmates had phones already, some for years. I, myself, resisted getting a cell phone until 2007-ish, which was years after my husband and most of my extended family. I do like being able to contact my daughter at any given time.

      Our 15-1/2 year old son still does not have a cell phone. woohoo! ;) He has asked only a couple of times and not really that seriously, it was more like he was just exploring the topic. We will get him one next time he brings it up.

      I am brand new to Gluten Free. I am going to be doing gluten free/grain free for my family. Currently collecting recipes and doing all the trials necessary to customize to my family.

      Thank you for your wonderful website and recipes.


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