Ready…or Not? A Cell-Phone-Ready Checklist to Use with Your Child


After reading No Regrets: Prepping for a Cell Phone, do you think your child may be ready for a phone? Or are you interested to know when the time is right for them to progress to a smartphone, as discussed in Handing Your Child a Cell Phone: A Gradual Four-Phase Process You May Not Have Considered?

If so, we are excited to share a helpful tool we’ve been using with our family: a simple Cell-Phone-Ready Checklist! This checklist provides tangible and concrete benchmarks to keep expectations clear as you and your child discuss cell phones. Not only will these guidelines help you determine when your child can move up from one phase of cell phone use to the next, but you can also use this list to limit cell phone privileges and move back down the “four-phases” if your child is not following through with their commitments.

After conversations with other parents and with each other, we brainstormed together as a family about what cell phone readiness might look like (as part of our Family Tech Think Tank available as a free download on our homepage!). We identified key characteristics of a child or teen who is responsible and who shows signs of emotional maturity. These characteristics are what make our Cell-Phone-Ready Checklist.

We realize (because we have imperfect children too) that most kids will not ace this checklist. We can’t expect 100%, but we can set our kids up for success and provide the support they need to able to do demonstrate their responsibility and maturity most of the time. Obviously, adaptations may be needed in cases of disability or special circumstances. The great thing about this checklist is that you and your children can come up with your own list. Here is our family’s cell phone ready checklist.

Indicators a child may be ready to try out a cell phone:

  1. Completes his or her homework.

  2. Can get up and get ready for school on his or her own.

  3. Has good personal hygiene. Knows when to shower and brush teeth and hair.

  4. Is responsible with his or her belongings. (Lost or broken phone, anyone?)

  5. Is consistently kind to family members. (If they can’t be kind at home, they might not be kind to people on social media or texting either.)

  6. Is comfortable communicating with people face-to-face.

  7. Remembers to do chores on his or her own without complaining.

  8. Can have mature conversations about proper use of technology and cell phones and is okay with parents knowing passwords and checking in as needed.

  9. Gets off of family devices after first warning without getting upset and can move onto another activity. (This is a good trial run! If they can’t do this with a family device, they won’t do it with a personal one! It’s always a good idea to do a trial run with a family device before giving them their own.)

  10. Is able to handle loss and has self-control over emotions. (When things don’t go his/her way, he or she knows how to work out a solution rather than throw a tantrum or blow up.)

*There is a chance that you have a child who is remarkably responsible and can check off all of these boxes, but they are still quite young. (We have one of those!) Does that mean you should just hand them a cell phone? We don’t think so. So, while these benchmarks are helpful, remember that we want to keep cell phones out of our children’s hands as long as possible.

Only you can decide what is right for your child and every situation is unique. You can ask yourself, “Is there any situation in which my child really needs a cell phone?” If the answer is no, then wait and let them enjoy a distraction-free childhood—because they only get one chance.

Indicators that you, the parent, are ready for your kid to have a cell phone:

  1. You’ve done your homework and feel prepared; not worried.
  2. You’ve talked with other parents who are ahead of you and who have some experience with cell phones.
  3. You’ve taken the time to listen to the reasons why your child wants a phone.
  4. You’ve had conversations with your spouse and children about screen time and created a Family Screen Time Plan.
  5. You’ve created a written agreement between you and the child that will use the cell phone.
  6. The child is an appropriate age and it feels right.

(For more information on the parental indicators check out the article, No Regrets: Preparing for a Cell Phone.)

We encourage you to have this conversation with your kids and create your own list! You can use our list as a starting point, but all families are different, and there might be something you’d like to change or add. We think that’s great! (And email us or comment below if you have some brilliant ideas you’d like to share with us!)

We also want to mention that this brainstorming activity works best with kids who are still open-minded and appreciate your insight and opinions. Our kids who are between the ages of six and nine were so helpful! (Kids are all so different, so you’ll know when your child is ready to participate.) While kids this age may still question the list later on, it will be easier to implement. (Just like any other guidelines you’ve established in your home, such as putting plates in the dishwasher or doing homework…the precedent is there and there is less discussion about whether or not it’s expected.)

This conversation had a much different tone with our pre-teen and teen. It was still completely worth it and doable, but let’s just say our discussion took some different turns and the parents’ answer was not always agreed upon! Regardless, they still participated and provided feedback, and that is worth a lot. (They are also proving that they are becoming more independent, and while it’s hard for us as parents, this is good! We want them to grow into independent adults.)

It’s never too late to put something like this in place. Get your family on board and make it as simple and positive as possible. Your cell-phone ready checklist will be handy when you need it! (And you will need it.)

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