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My 2nd Grader Asked For A Phone!

2nd graders getting phonesSchool has been back in session for about 5 weeks now, and second grade is fantastic for the most part. However, I had and interesting conversation with my 7 year old a few weeks ago. I expected it at some point, just not so soon. Yes, my 2nd grader has already asked for a phone!

It’s Not The Students

From being casual observer parents plus all of Jim’s insight as a teacher and principal over the past 14 years, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not the students who have problems. It’s the parents!

From the kid in my daughter’s class who brings a Starbuck’s iced coffee drink every morning to the parent who yelled at one of Jim’s teachers because the class policy is healthy snacks only, there are some real winners out there. (Lady with the kid having Doritos for breakfast, I’m talking to you!)  I try really hard not to judge, but come on people.

My bottom lip must have hit the floor when our daugher told us about one of her friends who has a phone she brings to school. To be fair, I have no idea what kind, but it is a working cell phone. Is there any reason why a 2nd grader would need a phone? Can’t drive. Too young to go on road trips for sports or activities. The only thing I can think would be if she has to go home to an empty house, but even then, wouldn’t you leave the phone at home?

But All My Friends Have One

I never want to be the cool parent or the friend parent, but it’s really hard to try and tell a 7 year old why she can’t do or have something when she sees kids who do or have the exact thing every day.

I remember my Mom saying something like, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” It drove me nuts, but I get the point now. It’s normal to want what other kids have. I don’t think brains are developed enough at age 7 to know that what your friends have might be ridiculous.

Jim and I told our daughter that she really doesn’t need a phone at this point in life and that seemed to be the end of the conversation. I don’t think she even wants or knows how to use one. She was just trying to be like her friend.

What To Do When Your Child Asks To Spend Money

I don’t think it’s good to always control your kid’s money. We are trying to let her choose what to buy within reason. We’ve told her that if she wants to partake in all these rip off valuable school fundraisers, she’ll have to use her own money. I know that may sound harsh, but it’s never too early to learn that lesson.

Just this month, there was a Scholastic book order that came home, a spirit stick (another stupid school fundraiser) sale, and a PTA book fair the following week. Of course, our daughter wanted to do them all.

Show Me The Money

Since we agreed not to touch her savings in the bank, she had $5 in liquid cash. The 2 Scholastic books she wanted cost $12. I told her if she wanted $7, she could either do extra work or sell something from her closet. She did both and made $10.

She then decided to buy the books from Scholastic and save $3 for the book fair. She said she really doesn’t need a spirit stick after coming to the conclusion that she just can’t do everything the school offers.

I also showed her how we could buy books on Ebay for about $1 each, and I reminded her we could go to the library for free. She did not choose either of those options, but at least they are out there.

It’s Really Hard To Follow Through

Before I congratulate myself on having such a financially savvy 7 year old, I have to admit that on the morning of the spirit stick sale, we did have tears. Something to the effect of, “I really, really want a spirit stick, waaaaaah!” I really, really wanted to just fork over $1, but I held firm. She was out of money, and we can’t buy things we can’t pay for. Amazingly, she lived through the day and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

I think a big part of her want is just to be like the other kids who bring money to buy things at school. I’m sure this will be an ongoing struggle. I also don’t want to give her a complex where she worries about the cost of every little thing.

In this case, it probably took more effort to sell a princess costume on Ebay and come up with extra chores to make money than it would have to write a check and be done with it. All in all, we’re talking less than $20. Don’t we already spend $40 a month on dance lessons and way more than that to take trips? Yes, but we value those things and they are well planned.

If I give $20 today, what will pop up next week or next month? Before you know it we’ve bought a phone! I don’t like to think that 2nd graders already feel the need to keep up with the Joneses, but it’s there, like it or not, and it is only going to get worse. We’ll fight the battle today in the hopes that she won’t have to in the future.

What is the craziest thing your kids have ever asked for? Can 7 year olds really understand needs vs wants and budgeting?


Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/tuelekza


About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. My 14-year old son asked me if he could have a credit card. I was like “what?”. I was caught off guard then. I asked why. He said that was for clothes and dates he would have in the future. I just laughed hard! Then, my advice came in but he didn’t get his wish granted.

  2. Good for you for not giving in on the $1 for the “spirit stick”. Sure it was just a buck and would have been nice to make the tantrum go away, but it could have started a really bad precedent.

    • I hate tantrums and crying to get your way and I always shut those down. They almost never happen because nothing good ever comes of them. I’m not sure why it was such a big deal, but luckily, it passed quickly.

  3. I love that you didn’t give her the $1 for a spirit stick (plus now I’m really curious what a spirit stick is)–what a perfect lesson on budgeting. I really like how you outlined options for her and she had to choose and stay on budget! Such a good method. Also, I can’t believe someone buys their kid Starbucks every morning!!! That’s just bizarre (well, as is the phone too).

    • Oh, it’s kind of like a Girl Scout or Boy Scout badge, but rectangular instead of round or triangle. They gave them a sort of key chain like thing at the beginning of school and one of these spirit sticks to go on it. They hang them on their backpacks. If kids get recognized for something good, they are given them, but then they sort of take away the thrill of that by having sales every month where you can buy them for $1 each. I already see some competition between who can get the most. The school had to limit them to buying 3 at a time.

      To be fair, the Starbucks is in one of those glass bottles that you get from the grocery, but still!

  4. MomofTwoPreciousGirls

    I thought there was time before the school pressure too. Then last year I received a letter home stating that my KINDERGARTNER needed to bring a tablet device to school for their technology class once a week. It came with a list of the features that were required for the device (I figured he leappad should be sufficient since she was freaking FIVE years old) but basically the list left you with no choice but to send an iPad. At first I wrote in and said no way. My kid goes to daycare first, then bus, school, back on bus and back to daycare. No way I’m leaving a $600 item in her backpack all that time. Plus she didn’t have her own OF COURSE. She would have to bring one of ours. The ones that we saved for months to buy in cash. So we were told she could share with another student. That did not work bc then I started getting notes sent home that she wasn’t sharing well and she was crying that she couldn’t do all the work. The SCHOOL pressured us. So both hubby and I moved to newer iPad minis and the girls had to buy our older ones with their savings. They are for school only and they get half hour on them during each weekend day but sheeesh! So wish I could homeschool!!!

    • Wow! I can’t believe the school pressured you into buying tablets, but then again, maybe I can. We live in a poorer socioeconomic area, so the schools do not really pressure parents in that way, but we sure do get hit with lots of fundraisers. It does make you consider homeschooling.

  5. I heard that phrase all the time from my Dad and it drove me nuts, but as a parent now I totally understand it. That said, good for you for sticking to your guns as it’s those small things that begin to set a precedent in my opinion. We really got asked for some crazy things at Disney, but I understand it as they do a great job of marketing to kids. We had a budget set for each of the kids to get something which helped our oldest a little though sure the level of understanding wasn’t all there.

    • Disney is like crack for kids. The time we went, it was certainly a take your own money experience. I bet there are tons of people who get carried away and buy the princess castle that they agree to ship to your home. Can you imagine getting home to see that box on your front porch?

  6. I am not usually ok with kids having cellphone at an early age, but in our case, my 7 year step-son does have a cheap pre-paid cell phone. He lives with his mom in another country and if he wants to call to speak to his dad or I and he’s with a babysitter because Mom is at work, then he can use the pre-paid phone (land lines are more expensive). He also asked us for a tablet and we had to point out that he has a working laptop to communicate with us and he doesn’t need a tablet.

  7. Kudos to you for sticking to your guns! We don’t have children yet, but I’m already worrying myself over what kind of parent I want to be. Like you, I don’t want to be the “cool” parent or the “friend” parent. I guess tough love remains the name of the game!

    • I am often guilty of trying to reason with an unreasonable person. At 7, you just don’t always get the long term value of doing without to save for tomorrow. I do try to always explain why instead of saying things like we can’t afford it or because I said so. It’s exhausting, but hopefully some of it will stick at some point.

  8. My second grader asked for a cell phone last year as well and immediately I was angry at my fellow parents. What is wrong with people these days when they give $600 phones to 7 year olds? We immediately told him no and it led into a money debate. We had some tension in the house for the night and it would have been completely avoided if parents didn’t try to “buy” their children’s affection and give them unreasonable gifts for their age.

    • Agreed. I think any kid would rather have a day at the park or doing something fun than getting a phone or new gadget, at least at this age. I realize we are all busy and don’t always have time to do what we know we need to do as far as spending time with our kids, but giving stuff to make up for it just causes more issues down the road.

  9. Wow, I knew cell phones were everywhere, but I can’t imagine giving my 7-year old a cell phone. However, I am totally taking note of your tactics when reasoning with your daughter and teachinig her the value of money. You can’t win every battle, but you seem to be winning these so far!

    • I sound like I’m winning, but you have no idea how many times I second guessed myself. It’s really hard to be consistent. I guess that’s why parents buy their kids so much crap.

  10. I grew up in Greenwich, CT where every kid had everything- car, ipod, laptop, etc. So while every other 16 year old was driving a Lexus, I was taking the bus. In retrospect, I’m glad my parents didn’t give me those things. It made me realize that just because everyone has something, doesn’t make it a need.

    • Thank you for saying that. I’ve known kids who grew up in Telluride surrounded by classmates who had Porsches. It must be surreal. At least most of the people around us are middle class or even poor, so we don’t have to worry so much about that. It does amaze me at how they have all this stuff. It makes no sense, but I guess you can have just about anything if you are willing to spend money or put it on credit.

  11. It’s really never very easy trying to manage children and money. You want so much for them but then you also know you can’t give in to every single one of their desires. We finally cracked and bought our daughter a phone just before she went into middle school (6th grade). It was because we want her to be able to reach us in case there is ever a situation. My son (4th grade) keeps asking for one, but he is content to use his iPod to text his friends and go on the Internet.

    • I think middle school is an appropriate time for a phone. Kids are more independent at that age. At 7, our daughter is never not with us or an adult we know, so there is not a situation where a phone would be necessary.

  12. I agree – it’s more often the parents fueling the need for the latest and the greatest, then it is the kid’s desire, especially at her age. No one likes to feel left out (and yes, I remember my Mom telling me the same thing about jumping off a bridge) and it can be hard to reason with them. It’s not always easy to stay firm but I’m glad you did. It’s a slippery slope when you start handing out money and justifying what’s $10 or $20 here or there. I see a lot of parents inadvertently create entitled kids doing that.

    • Kids will want everything, but it passes. After the whole spirit stick semi melt down, I kind of worried all day, but after school when I asked about it, it was almost a non-issue. If I’d let her buy one, it would have had no value. If I make her save for one, it will.

  13. haha, I don’t have kids yet so maybe I’m not one to say, but a phone in 2nd grade? iced coffee? what? I’m surprised at the amount of parents that give their kids everything they want. I just don’t understand. But like I said, I don’t have kids so I don’t know the power the they have over parents.

    • You do want your kids to have every advantage, but I think that somehow gets skewed into giving them stuff. Stuff does not equal advantage. I think it actually takes away from life lessons. Kids only have power over you if you let them. As much as our lives do revolve around our daughter and what she is doing at the moment, she is still not the boss. It’s our job to teach her how to grow into a productive adult. Giving in to every want does nothing to promote that.

  14. I’m sure digging in your heels now absolutely sucks, but hopefully these lessons stick now and by the time she’s a teenager and young adult, she’ll be responsible with her money!

    • I certainly feel like I’m always saying no. I kind of dread the teenage years, but I think they would be so much harder if we don’t have some rules already in place.

  15. As a kid I had to work for extras too, if I wanted the brand jeans, my parents would give me money for a supermarket jeans and I would have to work for the rest. I think it’s great your daughter has to find money when she wants something, instead of money falling from the sky. Having a phone seems crazy at this age, maybe if the kid walks back home alone it makes sense but at school all the teachers can call the parents.

    • They don’t let the 2nd graders walk home by themselves. You have to be in 3rd grade at least. I don’t think it’s ever to early to show that money does not fall from the sky or grow on a money tree or come from Mom’s purse.

  16. You’re a good Mom! There must be a guilt factor or something going on when parents give in for that stuff. Yes I remember the Scholastic book fairs! We have them in Canada too and 25 – 30 years ago! I think I almost bristled when I read that, because with four kids, it was always a challenge.

    • I think I would have to home school if I had 4 kids. There is no way you could do all the fundraisers. I am a big fan of books, and I love to encourage reading and support the school, just not every couple of weeks.

  17. You are so bang-on with parents. I see it every day. It blows my mind the lack of involvement and the use of “stuff” to make up for it is terrible. The bribe them to come see me. Last time i checked going to the dentist wasn’t optional and you just did it. There was no reward for it. Ugghhh.

    As per you question. Do i think a seven year old totally understands? Nope. But its a learning process and one that takes time…don’t skip steps. You’re teaching her basic financial foundations that will (hopefully) define her entire understating. Good luck!

    • I love your Canadian sayings, “Bang On”. I’ll have to remember that one. Yes, going to the dentist should be something you do for health not toys or electronics. I think that’s a very bad message to send.

  18. Wow, all the elementary schools around here do not allow any students to have cell phones. If a kid brings one to school it is confiscated and the parent has to come in and pick it up. Middle schoolers can have them, but they must be on silent and stored in their locker during the school day. My 6th grader has a very basic one this year and it is so helpful for after school activities that always vary on ending times. My second grader will get one when he is in 6th grade.

    • I believe our middle and high schools have the same policy. I don’t think there is one for elementary because I don’t think anyone has ever thought elementary kids, especially in 2nd grade would have phones. I sense a rule change coming, but they don’t yet have lockers, so I’m not sure where the phones will go unless they ban them altogether. That would be fine by me.

  19. I’m really not surprised that your kid asked for a phone, and I do think it’s the adults fault. I saw some families at a park by our house and lots of them have their phones out. I don’t have kids but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was worried about it. I just don’t want to be “that parent,” but I feel like it’s every parent these days : /

    • I’m sure I’ve been guilty of looking at my phone during times that should be family only, but I don’t want my 7 year old doing that just yet.

  20. I think a 7 year old can understand the difference between something they need and something they want. I’m not surprised by the request for a phone though…I saw it happening younger and younger at my old school. And I agree the parents are very much to blame. We are just now allowing our 13 year old to have a non-smart cell phone to take on trips. Comes in handy when she gets back late from a volleyball game…like tonight. 🙂

    • I think that’s the perfect time for a phone, but no data. Our elementary principal was telling us she did the same thing so they wouldn’t be late for pick ups or sitting in the parking lot for hours waiting. I also want to postpone the whole eyes on the phone thing that most teens seem to do. Maybe it’s because of my job, but I’m a big stickler for eye contact.

  21. Kim, we are totally on the same page as you guys here. Our oldest just got a phone this spring, when she was 14 and a half. It’s a talk and text only, and we’ll buy her 1000 minutes a year: after that, she’s on her own. It is difficult to say no to so much, but I know my kids appreciate everything SO much more, and I also know they see the value in money and experiences over material things. Our third oldest just got loaded up in cash and gift cards for her birthday to the tune of $135 or so. She spent the $45 in gift cards on clothes for herself, and she’s saving the rest. Same with our oldest, who also came into a good chunk of change – $100 – for a babysitting job. She earned it a month ago and hasn’t spent a dime of it. Yes, temptations have come along, but because we’ve taught them not to give in to the Joneses, she is saving for bigger, more valuable items, such as a car.

  22. When my brother and I were about that age we too had to use our own money for “wants”. Dad would occasionally “spot us” a bit more money if something we wanted cost a little more than what we had, but that amount that he loaned us came out of our next allowance. (Allowance wasn’t given, it was earned based on the chores we did each week.)

  23. I can’t beat the story about the 2nd grader bringing in starbucks everyday, thats pretty good. When my kids tell me I should buy them something because the other kids have one my response is “thats not my fault”. That confuses my kids enough they normally drop it.

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