Tweens and cell phones: What parents need to know during back-to-school season – National Consumers League

September 8, 2011

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

Washington, DC — With school back in session across the country and the flurry of purchases that often entails, many parents may be in the market for a cell phone for their teenager. However, the age that children are getting their first cell phones is trending earlier in recent years, with many pre-teens entering the cell phone market even before high school. Helping parents navigate the complex world of a tween’s first cell phone is the goal of a new consumer guide released today by the National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer organization.

The guide is available online at  It provides a range of tips to help parents choose between contract-based and prepaid services, manage data and texting costs, and set “rules of the road” for safe and smart tween phone use.

“Figuring out how to manage a child’s use of one of these high-tech gadgets can often require the skills of a seasoned diplomat, the steely nerve of a tightrope walker and the tech savvy of a Silicon Valley computer geek,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director. “Giving parents clear advice on how to handle a tween’s first phone is why we put this guide together.”

According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, only 5 percent of 16-year-olds say that they received their first cell phone at age 11 or before. Conversely, 57 percent of 12-year-olds report getting their first phone that young. According to a 2007 study by C&R Research, 46 percent of children ages 9-11 and 65 percent of 12- to 14-year-olds own a cell phone.

“Kids used to get their first phone as they were making the transition from middle school to high school,” said Greenberg. “But the market for first-time cell phones is trending younger, and we want to help parents understand and manage the unique challenges of providing their younger children with a cell phone strategy that makes sense for their family.”

NCL’s new guide is focused on helping tweens’ parents with easy-to-use tips that help them pre-plan for the shopping experience, set expectations with a tween before a phone is purchased, narrow down their cell phone choices, and manage their tweens’ usage once the phone is purchased.

Key tips include:

  • Texting is one of the biggest cost tweens’ parents should account for.  Consider a larger bucket of texts (or unlimited texts) to avoid costly pay-as-you-go texting rates.
  • However, consider limiting the tween’s allotment of text messages if you are concerned about inappropriate texting.  Recent research suggests that limiting texts messages relates to lower levels of inappropriate or dangerous texting behavior.
  • Take your tween with you when shopping so they can test different phones, but consider buying online to take advantage of online-only deals.
  • Make sure to set a monthly cell phone budget, and discuss acceptable use of the phone so that your tween knows who they can and can’t call or text.

NCL’s tween cell phone consumer guide was made possible thanks to an unrestricted educational grant from TracFone Wireless.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League is America’s pioneering consumer organization, dedicated to promoting and protecting the rights of workers and consumers in American and abroad. To learn more, please visit