Tweens and Cell Phones

With school back in session, many parents may be in the market for a cell phone for their teens. However, the age that children are getting their first cell phones is trending earlier in recent years, with many pre-teens entering the cell phone market even before high school. Helping parents navigate the complex world of a tween’s first cell phone is the goal of a new consumer guide released today by the National Consumers League.

The guide is available online at  It provides a range of tips to help parents choose between contract-based and prepaid services, manage data and texting costs, and set “rules of the road” for safe and smart tween phone use.

“Figuring out how to manage a child’s use of one of these high-tech gadgets can often require the skills of a seasoned diplomat, the steely nerve of a tightrope walker and the tech savvy of a Silicon Valley computer geek,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “Giving parents clear advice on how to handle a tween’s first phone is why we put this guide together.”

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 5 percent of 16-year-olds say that they received their first cell phone at age 11 or before. Conversely, 57 percent of 12-year-olds report getting their first phone that young. According to a 2007 study by C&R Research, 46 percent of children ages 9-11 and 65 percent of 12-14 year olds own a cell phone.

“Kids used to get their first phone as they were making the transition from middle school to high school,” said Greenberg. “But the market for first-time cell phones is trending younger, and we want to help parents understand and manage the unique challenges of providing their younger children with a cell phone strategy that makes sense for their family.”

NCL’s new guide is focused on helping tweens’ parents with easy-to-use tips that help them pre-plan for the shopping experience, set expectations with a tween before a phone is purchased, narrow down their cell phone choices, and manage their tweens’ usage once the phone is purchased.

The guide includes these tips for managing your tweens’ new cell phone:

  • Set a monthly budget and stick with it. Be clear about our commitment to avoiding overages (for postpaid plans) or your willingness to purchase additional minutes (for prepaid plans),
  • Discuss whether the phone may be used for making purchases of ringtones, apps, games, etc. If you don’t want it used for these, consider setting up parental controls to block these features.
  • Talk to your children about cyberbullying.  A quarter (26%) of teens report having been bullied or harassed through text messages and phone call.  Discuss strategies for handling cyberbullying responsibly.
  • Discuss inappropriate use of the phone. “Sexting” or sending or receiving inappropriate photos can quickly come back to haunt a tween.
  • Discuss whom the tween is and is not allowed to contact with their phone. A good strategy is to program in all allowable numbers into the phone’s contact list so that the caller ID function shows who is calling.  Be clear about whether you want your child to answer calls from unknown numbers.
  • Make sure your tween knows not to give out their cell number to people they don’t know, particularly online.
  • Make sure your tween knows about distracted biking. Just as adults need to make sure and avoid texting while driving, tweens should remember to keep their eyes on the road, not their cell phones, while they’re on two wheels or walking in public places where traffic could be an issue


Information provided by the National Consumers League, America’s pioneering consumer organization, dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of workers and consumers in American and abroad. To learn more, please visit

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Written by Pamela Settle, owner of Light Shine Media Group and publisher of GoodLiving® Magazine. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog may be reproduced without permission.

GoodLiving Magazine® is printed six times a year for families in Pinellas County, Florida, home to municipalities including Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Largo and St. Petersburg. The densest county in Florida, population is near 1 Million people. Past issues are available for viewing digitally on the website.

As an advocate for children and families, Pamela Settle serves as the local committee chairperson for The Children’s Movement of Florida, a non-partisan advocacy organization that works on behalf of the well being of children throughout the State of Florida.

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