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December 04, 2009


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My son is in 4th grade and starting to ask about getting a cellphone for the past few months. So far, not many kids have iphones in my area yet (midwestern region), but plenty have other makes of cell phones.

I found out about this trend this past summer, my son asked about getting one, which I replied "Well see". He hasn't pushed it yet, but I'm sure he will.

I'm torn because I like the new GPS function on some of the cell phones, so if he gets lost or goes somewhere he shouldn't, I can check up on him (or my wife can). On the other hand, I'm also worried about the harmful side effects from the electric waves from the phone on my kid's development. I know I sound paranoid, I don't underestimate anything anymore.
Eventually, I'll give up, but I think I will require that he must pay for half of it. My daughter is 6, so I don't have to worry about her yet...

Rich can mean so many different things. It be seen as a good thing or a bad thing. Where does the condescending saying 'oh that's rich' come from?

For most people becoming money rich is key; however, I would would argue the happiest people in the world are likely not materially rich, but instead rich in family and rich in love and life.

Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but I think it makes perfect sense.

People should not be striving to maximize their wealth, but instead striving to maximize their happiness.

This is a fantastic topic.

The first thing I have to do is take my own advice. I must act like my own finances have nothing to do with what others do or don't have.

There w/always be people with more and others w/less. That's got nothing to do w/what we can and can't afford. I talk about this quite a bit and it seems to have helped.

I love the idea of this topic...thanks.

A cell phone in the fourth grade?!

My mom would flat out say no to what she thought seemed unnecessary. My dad (well step-dad, but he's Dad to me) would say "ask your mom"...but he would usually remember it as a gift later even if mom said no.

I know they talk about finances all the time since they would sometimes sit down with us (their 3 kids) and talk about savings and investments and all kinds of stuff. Just last week, my parents and I took a little hike at my grandparents' house and talked about how they were doing since my dad just retired and how my husband and I are doing since they are always interested (and I love talking...surprise, surprise).

Back on track, my parents have gotten easier with age about stuff their kids want...I was not allowed to have my own phone line, a tv in my bedroom, or a Nintendo (I was born in 1982). My little sisters (born in 1990 and 1995) both have their own cell phones, tv's, and a Play Station 2.

Both of my sisters will get any help they need in college that their scholarships won't cover and will not be expected to get a job. I worked my way through by having 1-3 jobs at all times, had a little more than $16,000 in scholarships, and ended up borrowing about $8000 from my parents at 5% interest (which they waived as a present once I graduated...that was an interesting moment for me going from hateful to truly surprised and emotionally drained in 5 minutes flat).

It took me a few years to be less parents simply have more money now than they did when I was growing up. Despite this, they still taught both my little sisters the importance of saving. I think they are trying to raise their kids in the most balanced way they can.

My kids are in the 5th grade at an elementary school where most children are low to lower middle class and about 10% of the children's families are on public assistance because they're recent Somali or Ethiopian immigrants.

I am amazed--many of the kids at school bring to school cell phones, ipods, game boys, nintendo hand-held games and etc, and many of the American kids also apparently have playstations, wii's, as well as computers at home. These kids often don't even have good snow boots or a warm coat--which are essential in this climate where it gets below zero F for many days in the winter. Why do they spend their money on these super expensive toys instead!??

We're upper-middle class and very comfortable. I buy my kids quite a lot of books & toys, and they go to summer camp and we travel and so on, but I have never felt that they needed expensive electronic toys or a cell phone. We have a desktop computer and they play games on that---I guess I feel that's plenty for now. Since they're always with either a babysitter or parent I don't know why they'd need a cell phone. I am thinking about getting them cell phones when they get in middle school, mostly because they'll be taking the bus and not with a babysitter in the afternoons--it seems like a good safety move. My kids get an allowance and I've told them they can save up and buy gameboys or an ipod if they want to. But when they figure out how long it would take to accumulate all that $, they have always opted to buy something cheaper.

But maybe the pressure is off me because their Dad likes to buy them expensive gadgets--he bought them a wii and a big computer and also their own netbooks to use while at his house (which is every other weekend), and also he bought them a cell phone & contract (they just leave the phone at my house and use only occasionally to call him.) Especially with the phone, it really doesn't make any sense economically (they always call him from my house and of course they could use my phone no problem)

So could this be a gendered thing? Maybe fathers are more likely to believe that electronic toys are more important for children than mothers are?

Americans are weird about cell phones, but of course, they are also retardedly expensive here compared to other countries. Then again our young teenagers think sending naked pictures of themselves to their friends is perfectly normal so.... perhaps we have a reason.

I studied abroad in Japan for a semester and as soon as kids start to go to school they get a 'cell phone'. Of course, its a very limited model that they can basically use to call only a pre-programmed set of phone numbers (parents, school, grandparents, emergency numbers, etc).

Unless you supervise your kid 100% of the time they are not in school, its a good idea for them to have one. You never know when something will happen and they will need to contact you.

But is it *really* necessary at age 4???

I don't buy the argument that kids ought to have cell phones "just in case" something happens. In monetary terms, it's a waste of an investment. If something were to happen, and a parent needed to reach his/her child they ought to be able to call that child's supervisor -- because children shouldn't be left alone anyway, right?

Also, you're unwittingly setting your child up for a life-long relationship with cell phone providers. If you want them to have this technology with them all the time (so you can track them with GPS - frightening), they're going to get more used to having it than not. Once they grow up, they'll view the cell phone as a necessity, rather than a want -- which just contributes to their monthly living expenses. If you're lucky, they won't fall into the trap of upgrading -- but highly unlikely given that phone companies are notorious for creating add-ons.

In practical terms, I'd argue that cell phones make children more vulnerable to the very things that parents are trying to protect them from. Cell phones aren't just phones -- they're multi-use tools. Text messaging, image downloading, internet surfing are just some of the options available with even the most basic cell phones. Parents can monitor a child's online activities on a home computer much more efficiently than they'd be able to monitor a child's cell phone activities. Remember: if having a cell phone means that a child can contact you whenever she needs you, it also means that she can contact virtually anyone else -- and anyone else (including and especially sexual predators) can contact her.

I will not buy my 5th grader a cell phone. I don't think she needs it. I may revisit this once she is driving (MAY being the key word), but even then, the most I will do is buy a prepaid phone and require her to always keep minutes on it (so she can either buy more minutes or carefully budget the minutes I put on it for the year).

She does not own a portable music player. She does own a Nintendo DS, which she purchased with her own money.

Giving her an allowance and requiring her to buy most of her "stuff" (of course we give her birthday and Christmas gifts, and OCCASIONALLY we might buy her a gift for no reason or to celebrate something) is one of the best decisions we have made as parents. She still sometimes asks for things that her peers get, but she knows our answer will be "no," and she doesn't really fuss when say it. She is also learning the value of things and how to save for something she wants. When she bought her Nintendo DS, she reasoned that with a new kind of DS coming out, the price of the old kind would drop (she was right), and she figured she didn't need the bells and whistles on the "improved" version. She's learning! Hurrah!

That said, I really HATE it when her friends whose parents aren't as strict go on and on about their stuff. I feel like I am swimming against the tide. I won't give in, but I really wish we had more social support.

My 7th-grader has a prepaid cell phone that I bought him for $8 ... no internet access or camera, just a phone. The minutes (Virgin Mobile) cost me $90 a year. It's worth it to me that he can call if he needs a ride from school ... but it's not a phone to chatter on or play with.

At home, he has a Wii that he got for Christmas two years ago and a used desktop computer that he uses for homework (and chat sessions with his buddies).

We are upper middle class; we travel, buy books, go to plays and concerts. Yet because he doesn't have a "cool" phone, he feels he is deprived, compared to some of his classmates.

He has never really seen poverty and can have no real idea how blessed he is!

We do, as a family, give to charities such as Heifer, and we talk about how fortunate we are compared to most of the world. And he gives part of his allowance to church or to charities.

I think it's hard for any of us to envision how fortunate we are.

Great discussion topic. I've written a few posts about children and money lately. My children are not at the age yet when they come home from school and talk about what Suzie or Billy have and they don't. However, I think teaching them good sound money management principles with the use of give, save, spend banks may help build a solid foundation. But I think this definitely presents a new set of challenges in which parents must be prepared. I suppose somewhere along the way the discussion needs to take place about materialism and how to be content and where contenment is found. For my children, this will be a Biblical lesson as well as doing my best to model the behavior.

I truly don't understand why people get freaked out that a grade schooler has a cell phone. I'm in my 40s and am grateful my 2 nephews have one each. They're brothers and they don't share even tho they are never apart except during class. My husband can call either of them at any time, no matter which divorced parent they are with. They can call him whenever they want. They have internet on the phone, but they have internet on the computer. what's the difference? they have a camera on the phone, but they have a camera anyway. big deal. it's easier to teach them at this age what is and isn't appropriate than wait till they're older when they're in the stage of "i can't hear you." When you have a family plan, cell phone plans aren't expensive at all. i'd rather them come up with stupid ideas at this age when they don't realize the monitoring techniques being used and can't be smart and block such attempts. If someone sends them an inappropriate photo, for example, they are more likely to come to you so you can teach them how to deal with it. At an older age, good luck with that.

Like you, our kids are encouraged to earn money to pay for their wants (after saving 20%). My son has accumulated a small fortune in video games.

But, the rule in our house is no cell phones till you're driving. And even then it will probably not be yours but a family cell phone. There are no TV's or computers in their bedrooms either.

I remember the damage I did because my parents allowed me the opportunity to have distractions like this. I simply want better for my kids.

That being said, I've been looking at the cell bill and our landline bill and wondering if it is time to cut the cord. But then there must be a cell phone for the "house" which means there will be times when someone (my wife) will want the kids to take it with them.

I am so torn!

I didn't get a cell phone until I after I graduated university and surprisingly, I survived. If I needed to reach my parents, there was always a phone around. Schools have them. Friends' houses have them. Malls and restaurants have them (pay phones, that is). The idea that kids "must have" cell phones in case of an emergency is stretching it, I think.

My parents have always been pretty open about money i.e. they always discussed how long they need to work to save for an item I wanted.

In terms of what other people had or not, they'd say that this other person had parents with higher income so they could afford more.

They also had a few token answers like:
- Earn it
- I guess so-and-so had better luck with parents than you did
- You want something, sure, please go on wanting. Have I ever forbidden you to want?

Mind you, I grew up in the Soviet Union, so it's not like most of my friends have more. In fact, my parents were doing relatively OK, and I did have some things other kids didn't. But invariably there was someone who had better toys or more expensive shoes. Then, the answers above would do. By the age of 12 or so, though, I knew exactly what I can get and what I can't get.

We allow the kids a cell phone (phone and limited texting only) in 6th grade (that's middle school here). It allows me to contact them when I need to. I feel it is part of the learning process to growing up. I feel if I wait to hand them a cell phone the same I you hand them car keys, I am asking for a disaster. Even though the newness of the cell phone should have worn off by the time they are 16, I am hoping they will have learned to control their need to respond to every text as soon as it comes in by the time they've had it a few years.

But we have rules around the phone - turn it in by 8:30 every night; don't delete your texts and know that mom and dad will ocassionally read through them; don't text when you are supposed to be doing something else that demands your attention (homework, babysitting, etc.); don't text in front of visitors, etc.

Finally, we do not give them unsupervised internet access, including on the phone. This is still the devil's playground and your kids are too young to navigate it on their own.

I don't have kids. But if I did they wouldn't get a cell phone at least until they were 14 or so. I myself don't have an expensive cell phone plan. Its prepaid through verizon. It suits me fine. I make calls when I need to and I spend less than 20 bucks a month on this service. I'm not a " talk on the phone a lot" kind of guy. Most my calls are short and to the point. I like it that way.
Back to question of what to tell the kids ( if I had kids). Well... If they came to me and said " Dad How come we don't have this or that. I'd tell them...." Kids ...were just not rich like them". or the ole standby..."we can't afford it"... nuff said.

Funny... My wife and I (w/ no kids yet) were just talking about this. We have family that complains of having no money yet their kids were texting the whole time we were with them! No money, but some how enough money for the more expensive cell phone plans that include texting, etc.....

I'm sure that once our little ones get to school, we're going to have to deal with the "why don't we have x?" questions.

I'd rather tell them "because we choose to spend our money differently" than "we can't afford it". Yeah, in some cases, it will be because we truly can't afford it. In other cases, it would be a stock answer that I could use to shut them up, if they kept annoying us about something. But I think it's better for them to see that they have choices in how they spend their cash.

I don't want them growing up with the whole "I want one/we can't have one because we are poor" mentality. Maybe I'm projecting too much, but I don't recall anyone who enjoyed feeling poor, whether they really were or not. I think it's better for them to think "yeah, we could have that/we have this instead because this is what mom & dad decided on". It opens up a way to have discussions about saving up for something, deciding if a "need" is really a "want", setting priorities, that kind of thing.

(I think it worked pretty well for me & my brother when we grew up. We got teased by some neighborhood kids back in Phoenix about being poor because we didn't have a swimming pool in our backyard like they did....and our dad reminded us that we had air conditioning and they didn't. Sure, we had to go to the public park to swim, but we didn't sweat like pigs when it was 110. He reminded us that he and mom made the choice, and someday we would be making similar ones. I didn't listen to my old man like I should have, but that lesson stuck.)

Of course, since a lot of really rich people grew up poor, or at least thinking that they were, I might be robbing them of the chance to grow up to be the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. ;)

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