My daughter starting asking for a cell phone when she was in the 3rd grade. To my surprise, several of her elementary classmates already had phones. Most were just hand-me-down phones that only played games or enabled messaging services over Wi-Fi, but a few had actual phone service and the latest IPhone to boot. In 2019 an NPR study found that 53% of US kids owned a phone by age 11.
Although our daughter was a mature kid who made excellent grades and exhibited self-discipline, as a family, we agreed to wait until 8th grade before getting her a cell phone. My husband, who was a middle school principal at the time, witnessed horrific incidents of bullying and teen sexting scandals.
Many involved “good kids” who made immature juvenile choices that could follow them into adulthood.
Yet, this year when our daughter entered 7th grade, we caved! We got our daughter a cell phone for school and safety.
After the first day of school my daughter reinstated her plea for a cell phone. This time she mentioned the need to sign in using QR codes to conduct contact tracing at school. That night my husband and I realized getting our middle schooler a cell phone would be an additional tool to help keep her safe.
We set a budget of $175, laid out some ground rules, and got her a phone. If you are thinking about getting your middle schooler a phone check out these suggested rules. You can even download cell phone contracts for parents and kids.
Our four rules were simple:
- Turn off the phone during class.
- The phone has to be downstairs in our room by 7 PM.
- No social media.
- All accounts passwords must be shared.
She was happy to oblige and her only request was to download Netflix and a game for the bus ride home.
Having a cell phone has also helped our daughter collaborate for school assignments and extra curricular activities. She has reached out to fellow classmates in her Algebra class and is currently coordinating a basketball practice meetup with several other girls before tryouts.
Although studies have shown that cell phone use can negatively impact student achievement, prayerfully, connecting and engaging with her classmates with boundaries we put in place positively supports both her academic and social growth.
When I went to pick up my daughter from the bus stop the second week of school I watched distantly in my review mirror as she got off the bus and disappeared. She didn’t recognize my new car and assumed she got off at the wrong stop. She hoped back on the bus so swiftly that I was unable to comprehend what just unfolded. Thankfully, I was able to call her immediately and coordinate a pickup at the next stop.
If your middle schooler is riding the bus to school or participating in extracurricular activities, I definitely recommend getting them a cell phone. Being able to reach my daughter in that moment gave me piece of mine.
Cell phones allow us to reach our kids in case of an emergency and with proper supervision and rules we can help our children practice responsible cell phone usage.