Survey: Majority of ‘tweeners’ now have cell phones, with many parents concerned about cost – National Consumers League

July 10, 2012

Contact: NCL Communications, (202) 835-3323,

View NCL’s new July 2012 survey conducted by ORC International (PDF)

Listen to audio from today’s tele news event here.

Washington, DC – Cell phones are not just for teenaged children any more. Nearly six out of 10 (56 percent) parents of “tweeners” (children aged 8-12) have provided their children with cell phones, according to a new survey conducted by ORC International for the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s oldest consumer organization. Of those parents, roughly a quarter are facing higher bills than they had expected to pay in order for their child to have a cell phone.

The survey is part of NCL’s continuing commitment to providing advice to parents of pre-teens who are considering buying their children’s first cell phones.

Highlights of the NCL tweeners and cell phones survey include the following:

  • Nearly six out of 10 parents with tweeners surveyed (56 percent) have purchased cell phones for their young children, ranging from a high of 62 percent in households earning over $100,000 a year to a low of 41 percent in households under $50,000 a year.
  • Parents in a third of households earning under $50,000 are paying more for their tweener’s cell phone than they had expected. Overall, about a quarter of households (23 percent) report they pay more than they had anticipated would be the case.
  • The 10-11 age range appears to be the “sweet spot” for pre-teens to receive a cell phone. Six out of 10 pre-teens were aged 10-11 when they received their phone. Twenty percent of 8-9 year olds and 15 percent of 12-year olds received a cell phone.
  • Parents who are paying more than they thought they would for their tweener’s cell phone would: investigate parental controls offered by wireless carrier to control costs (62 percent); set a monthly budget with child (38 percent); cancel phone (23 percent); and switch to prepaid or postpaid unlimited plans (22 percent).

“Before the training wheels are coming off their bikes, many children are getting their first cell phones,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud. “Our survey underscores the fact that pre-teens are the new ‘growth market’ for the wireless industry. Given the increasingly young age at which kids get these devices, the multiplicity of choices in the cell phone market can be daunting for parents. That’s why it is imperative that parents have the information necessary to make informed buying decisions when it comes to their pre-teens’ first wireless devices.”

Graham Hueber, senior researcher, ORC International, said: “This survey clearly shows that the use of cell phones is now becoming more entrenched at an earlier and earlier age in the U.S. However, even a substantial portion of parents who are comfortable with putting a smartphone in the hands of an eight year old have qualms about the resulting costs and are open to considering options to lower their child’s phone bill. This is likely going to mean that more and more parents will look for ways to pull the purse strings a little tighter, such as setting a budget or exploring prepaid cell phone options.”

Other key survey highlights

  • Tweeners aged 11-12 are more than twice as likely as those aged 8-10 to have a cell phone purchased by their parents, by a margin of 69 percent to 32 percent.
  • The top three reasons parents buy cell phones for tweeners are safety (84 percent); tracking child’s after-school activities (73 percent); and child asked for one (16 percent.)
  • Only 4 percent of tweeners with cell phones got a basic phone with no Web or texting access. About half (48 percent) are provided with a basic cell phone with texting, another 20 percent get a basic non-smartphone with texting and Web access, and 27 percent get a smartphone.
  • 82 percent of parents said that the price of the cell phone service was an important part of their decision. About nine in 10 parents (92 percent) say they have tweener cell phone costs of less than $75 per month.
  • 81 percent of parents of tweeners put their child on a contract-based cell phone plan and 15 percent opted for a prepaid cell phone service. More than four out of five parents (84 percent) added their child to an existing family plan.
  • Most important issues for parents selecting a cell phone for a tweener: total price of service (41 percent); quality of network (34 percent); cost of texting service (29 percent); and price of handset (29 percent).
  • More than half of parents (52 percent) who think they are paying too much for their tweener’s cell phone would consider switching to unlimited cell phone service as a way to cut costs. Six in 10 parents of tweeners in households earning less than $50,000 are not “aware of lower cost, unlimited, prepaid phone plans that would allow your child to make unlimited calling and texting.”

The survey also contained a number of good news findings:

  • Only 16 percent of parents reported friction or disagreements with their child over cell phone use.
  • Tweener cell phone abuse appears isolated. Fewer than one in 10 parents (8 percent each) reported “use of cell phone intrudes on family time” and “distracts your child from school work.” Only 3 percent reported such inappropriate use of a cell phone as “sexting” or cyberbullying by tweeners.
  • Some parents are doing their research. Before purchasing a cell phone for their tweener, 48 percent of parents talked to other parents about their experiences, 33 percent checked handsets/service plans online, and 29 percent did same at one or more retail outlets.
  • 89 percent of 10 parents of tweeners who bought cell phones for their child have no regrets.

Full survey findings are available here.

Tips from NCL

Before beginning the shopping for a tween’s cell phone, parents should ask themselves some basic questions in order to set expectations:

  • Why does your child need a cell phone?
  • Will the phone be used primarily to stay in touch with parents and for emergency use? Or will your child be using the phone for entertainment or to communicate with friends?
  • How much do you want to spend per month on service?
  • How much do you want to spend on the initial purchase of the cell phone itself?
  • Is your tween mature enough to keep their minutes, texting, and data use within plan limits?
  • Is your tween mature enough to use the phone responsibly and avoid viewing or sending inappropriate content?
  • What is your tween’s school’s policy on cell phones in school?
  • Does your tween have a habit of losing things or can he or she handle the responsibility of caring for a phone?


The ORC International survey for National Consumers League presents the findings of a telephone poll conducted among a sample of 802 adults who are the parent of a child between the ages of 8 and 12.  The national survey was conducted during the period of June 15-20, 2012. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the full sample level.

About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

NCL gratefully acknowledges underwriting from TracFone Wireless, Inc., whose unrestricted educational grant made this survey possible.

MEDIA CONTACTS: Ailis Aaron Wolf, for NCL, (703) 276-3265 or; and Carol McKay, NCL, (412) 945-3242 or

EDITOR’S NOTE: A streaming audio replay of the related news event will be available on the Web at as of 5 p.m. EDT on July 10, 2012.