When should you get your kids a smartphone?

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Editor’s note: Liz Seymour is a stay-at-home mom and author of ‘Moms and Money,’ a Clark.com series focused on helping moms establish a solid financial plan and better understanding of household finances — all while juggling the endless duties of a stay-at-home parent.

My eldest is at camp this week. She loves it and has been counting down the days until departure. I love that she loves it, and I also love that for an entire week, she will go unplugged. No electronic devices whatsoever.

For this generation of parents, it’s nearly unfathomable that a mere seven days without electronic stimulation is such a major feat. Review any statistics, though, and you’ll immediately see what a huge contrast that is to their day-to-day interaction with social media, apps and more.

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A report from the Pew Research Center says that 56% of teens go online several times a day, and 24% describe their online presence as ‘almost constant.’ More often than not, that online presence takes place on a phone. The same report says, ‘Nearly three-quarters of teens have or have access to a smartphone and 30% have a basic phone, while just 12% of teens 13 to 17 say they have no cell phone of any type.’

Plenty of kids younger than 13 have phones, too. In fact, the age at which a teen acquires a phone is often hotly contested. But regardless of where you fall, chances are you will one day soon find yourself adding a line to your cellular account. How expensive that winds up being is up to you.

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To smartphone or not? That is the question…

One of your first decisions will likely be whether or not to get your kids a smartphone. One of my cousins instituted what I think is a terrific policy, and one that I wish I had the fortitude to instill myself: her teenagers get cell phones, but do not upgrade to a smartphone until they have maintained honor roll status through their sophomore year of high school.

However, since I was primarily interested in upgrading my own phone, I didn’t have the patience for this plan and simply gave my daughter my older iPhone. This also led to our need for a family plan, whereas before, it was just me since my husband’s phone is paid for through his work. I feel like you hear commercials for family plans a lot. As always, it’s important to do your homework, and shopping around always pays off.

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When trying to budget for this additional line, keep in mind there are almost always hidden costs. You can read more about that here. And then the additional costs of protecting that phone. Cell phone insurance isn’t necessarily the best way to go, either. Of these great alternatives to insurance with your carrier, my first choice is always a heavy-duty case, like Otterbox or Lifeproof. No, they aren’t as decorative as some, but they do a much better job against cracked screens and water damage. If your teen is willing to run the risk of paying for a new phone themselves, then by all means go for that charming patterned case. Mine isn’t, so she has a bright green Lifeproof one. Makes it much easier for me to find when it’s time to do my daily review of her activity, too!

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