parents guide giving student cell phone

A Parent’s Guide: Giving Your Student a Cell Phone

The milestone of giving your student their first cell phone may be the most significant milestone of their adolescence. The oldest of Generation Z (born 1997-2012) would have been ten years old when the first iPhone hit the shelves; which many would say revolutionized the cell phone/smartphone market. This fact shaped their idea of what a cell phone is and does, unlike my first cell phone I received in 2001.

My phone had cellular service, but I could not text, use the internet or social media and the only “game” was Snake. My parents gave it to me at the age of 16 for function and practicality because I was a new driver.

I share this with you because there is a reason I titled the article Giving Your Students a Cell Phone. No one said you have to give your kid a smartphone as their first phone.

To better focus our time, let’s assume you are planning on giving your student a phone.  We won’t be discussing if you should.


The significant difference between these two semi-similar devices is the features they carry. A cell phone is going to be used as a phone first and a texting device second, and that’s about it. A smartphone is a device that will do these things but also include the internet, apps, social media, games, etc.

The first step is to decide the reason for the device.

  • Is it to communicate to you, family, and friends?
  • Is it to have a way to contact someone in case of an emergency?
  • Is it a device for photos, games, plus availability to talk with friends and family?

As I have spoken with and counseled many families, I understand it is the “unpopular” route to give a cell phone rather than a smartphone. However, depending on the age of your student and the need for the device, a cell phone for on-the-go and a tablet for at-home may be all you need. But if your student needs the internet and the camera functionality along with the other stated needs, then a smartphone may be the better option.

Just know that you have options; a smartphone is not the only one.


Before you give them the device, it would be wise to lay down a few expectations and guidelines. To lay out expectations with your student about anything is always a good idea. Since this is such a significant milestone in their life, they may agree to just about any terms you lay out.

A few expectations may look like the following:

  • When and where are they allowed to use the phone? You may not want them to use it while driving or in their room with the door closed or charging in the bedroom overnight. These are things you should be upfront about from the beginning.
  • How much time is the student on it? Set an amount of time that you think is a fair amount of time they are on the device daily. Times may look different for younger and older students. It may be different based on the day of the week. These are both great considerations when you give them the phone.
  • Who can have the number? This plan may seem a bit strange, but one way to control the content and communication on the device is to control/know the people that are contacting your student (if you choose a smartphone, this would be true for social media also).
  • How will you connect? Often, we, as parents, can give our children a new toy and see them play with it for a bit, but then eventually lose track and wonder if they still use it. When it comes to a mobile device, we need to check in on how often they use it regularly.

One way is to monitor it with additional software. If you are unsure of what to purchase, click HERE for our review on eight technology monitoring services.

Another way to keep connection is to sit down with your student weekly to check in. The meetings will help you know the friends they have and their areas of interest. The more we, as parents, connect and communicate with our students about technology the narrower the gap will be between us.

Parents already feel behind when it comes to technology, don’t let this be another item that separates you from your student; let it be something that brings you together! A regular sit down brings you encouragement because you see the people with whom they converse, what relationships are like, and how to encourage or support.

You are not going to know everything your student does on their device; honestly, you probably don’t want to know it all. But when you make a plan, you can trust the content and relationships are respectable.

The time in a parents’ life when they decide to give their student a cell phone is a huge moment. It requires trust, honesty, and faith.

However, if you are intentional on when/how you give it, you will find that this can be another connection to bring you and your student closer together!

Written by Tony Blanco

TONY BIANCO has been in Student Ministry for 10+ years with his wife Diamend with whom they have two amazing kids. He is a former Radio DJ, Technology Reviewer, GameStop Manager, Apple Store Expert, and the author of The Family Technology Plan.

For More on Technology, check out M2P’s Tech Series.


technology series

M2P Members

Grab your Technology resources in the Toolbox: Technology.

technology teenagers cell phone