Everyday Etiquette: Cell Phone Tips for Children (and Parents, Too!)
By Diane Gottsman

by Diane Gottsman I am often asked at what age is it appropriate to buy a child a cell phone. The answer is subjective, depending on the individual needs and situation of each family. What is not subjective, however, is what we need to teach our children before entrusting them with an expensive piece of equipment that they may be ill-equipped to use.

A cell phone can be a valuable and useful tool if used properly and with regard to others around you. As a parent, it is your responsibility to model the cell phone behavior you expect from your children.

Before Getting a Cell Phone …

  • Think seriously about whether or not your child will benefit from its use or whether it is just a spontaneous purchase that he is not mature enough to handle. Ask yourself: Will he lose it? Will he abuse the privilege? Is he mature enough to understand the responsibility of a cell phone? If the answer is yes, proceed forward.

  • Talk to your children about the rules you expect them to follow regarding cell phone use. Let them know you trust them and expect them to act responsibly. Discuss consequences, in advance, should they disregard the rules you have both agreed upon. Consider putting everything in writing and have each of you sign and date the agreement.

If Your Child Has a Cell Phone

Discuss these do's and don'ts with your child:

  • When making a call, identify yourself immediately.

  • Be brief and to the point.

  • Choose not to answer the phone when conducting personal business such as getting a haircut, attending a birthday party or holiday celebration, or dining at a restaurant or someone's home.

  • Turn your phone off or put it on vibrate during class, a church service, the movies, in the library, at a museum, a funeral and the doctor's office.

  • If you must take a call, excuse yourself and take the call away from the table, study group, or situation you are involved in.

  • Do not talk on the phone or text while driving - accidents have skyrocketed due to teens and adults being distracted by cell phone use.

  • Don't shout into the phone or give out personal information that could be easily overheard by others.

  • Do not use your phone during school hours or any place that a cell phone is not allowed.

  • Don't borrow another person's cell phone unless it is an emergency.

  • Don't play pranks, thinking a cell phone number can not be traced.

  • Do not assume everything you say is private. When you are on the phone, there are always other people within earshot.

  • Never use the speakerphone unless you ask the other person's permission first.

  • Don't bump one call for another.

  • Do not text message anything you wouldn't want read on the front page of your local newspaper.

  • Don't give out your cell phone number to anyone not agreed upon by your parents.


Diane Gottsman is a nationally recognized etiquette and protocol expert who leads programs for children and adults. To read her previous columns, visit the Etiquette Archives.