Whenever the topic of kids and cell phones comes up, rarely do you see the unique needs of a homeschooled child addressed. While this post could definitely reach beyond the scope of homeschooling, I want to talk specifics as they relate to homeschooled kids, along with our personal “rule of thumb” when it comes to letting our kids have cell phones.
First of all, let me disclose that only one of my children has a cell phone of their own, and that child is nearly 20 years old, and the phone he has is my old cell phone added on to our plan for $10 a month. He did not get a new phone and he does not have a plan of his own. He uses very little data because he spends most of his day in an environment with WiFi. (more on that later) Most of my children are quite young, but the topic of cell phones has come up more than once with my 17 year old daughter, who does not have one.
So, when do our children get cell phones of their own?
Simple answer: When they need one.
Our oldest son got a cell phone when it became clear that he was going to be traveling quite frequently without us and needed a reliable way to communicate. However, our oldest daughter does not have a cell phone for the plain and simple fact that she does not NEED one…yet. And that, my friends, is our rule of thumb in a nutshell. If she NEEDED – I mean truly needed – a cell phone, she would get one, but she does not.
Most homeschooled kids are at home most of the day or with family while out and about. There is a cell phone readily accessible to them or easily borrowed if needed. When my daughter goes to coffee with her Deaf friends and I’m not able to go along, she takes my phone or her brother’s phone to call for a ride home. When she works outside the home, she often has a timeframe she will be gone or she once again, borrows a phone. I should also note that she is not driving either. (But that’s another story.) The actual NEED for a cell phone of her own has not presented itself as yet, so we have not needed to address the topic with her beyond our simple answer of “You don’t need one.”
When does a homeschooled child need a phone?
There are a myriad of reasons why you might invest in a cell phone for your child, but be certain whatever reason your child might pose to you is truly a need. Kids have a way of feeling like things are needs when really they are not. With that said, here are a few instances of when a homeschooled child might be in need of a phone:
- They have a job or classes outside the home. (see next bullet point)
- They cannot borrow a phone from a sibling or parent.
- They are in a situation where they would need to contact you quickly.
- They are driving long distances and it isn’t feasible to simply borrow a phone.
- They will not have WiFi where they are going and would need to use cell data.
- They are consistently borrowing a phone and it has become an inconvenience.
- They can afford to pay the bill (but still be careful on this one – just because they can, does not mean they should)
One thing I want to note is the use of WiFi. WiFi is readily accessible in a lot of places, and can often be used in place of a cell phone if your child has a device that can connect to WiFi. When our daughter was working for a classical music festival a couple of summers ago, she would take an old phone we had sitting around the house that she could text from using the WiFi in the auditorium. When she had to be off site where there wasn’t WiFi, she took our son’s phone, but that was rare. We have Apple products, so they work across devices with an email address, but you can also use an app like Voxer or WhatsApp to connect without a phone number.
What about devices in general?
I am going to be perfectly honest here and tell you that we have a different take on devices than we do cell phones with data plans. You might have noticed that I said we have an old phone (respectfully dubbed the “little phone”) that Megan used with WiFi while on a job location. She also owns an iPad she bought herself last year (with our permission). These devices are generally used in our home and have stringent rules attached to them. Our oldest son who lives with us while attending college in our backyard – yes, I’m serious…the college is literally in our backyard – has a cell phone and an iPad mini. And while his rules are different and much more lenient, there are still rules.
But, our kids do have to prove themselves responsible when it comes to owning these other devices. Our 12 year old would love to have a Kindle of his own to listen to his beloved Adventures in Odyssey streaming online, BUT he leaves his CDs strung all over the house and often the floor, so not a chance am I going to reward him with a device (even a less expensive one like a Kindle). He will need to prove he can take care of the things he has.
I also would caution against making a blanket statement like, “When our kids are 13, they can get a cell phone.” (or any device, for that matter!) Every child is different, and while your oldest may be extremely responsible and 13 seemed like a great age to get a phone or tablet for them, your next child may be a loose cannon with the internet in the palm of their hand! Don’t fall for the “fairness” trap – make your decisions based on facts, with a little bit of gut feeling thrown in.
So, while I’m not inherently against cell phones (or devices in general), I AM against paying for data and a device (especially a brand NEW phone) with no good cause, and not creating any limits for the use of that device. Some examples of limits from our household are:
- The iPad doesn’t go to bed with you.
- No devices before 2pm unless specifically used for school.
- No devices on Sunday – period.
- The device is never more important than the needs of the household.
- If mom or dad say to put the device away, do it – no excuses, no whining.
So, once again, ask yourself, “Do my kids NEED that phone, that iPad, that tablet, that laptop, that Kindle?” If its sole purpose is as a toy, then you’d be better off spending less money for toys. If your child doesn’t have a real use for a real piece of equipment, wait until they do. Trust me, you’re saving yourself a can of worms you can never shut again once it’s been opened.