Should I Buy My Child a Cell Phone?

Q: "My 12-year-old has been lobbying for a cell phone. Are there any guidelines to keep it from turning into a toy, a distraction, and a drain on the budget?"

A: "From talking to the neighborhood kids in middle school, most kids they know have cell phones by 6th grade," says Beth Blecherman, a cofounder of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog who writes about parenting and family technology on her personal blog, Techmamas.

Several parents have told Blecherman that they gave their children cell phones to aid in scheduling pickups and drop-offs. It's convenient, but it has some downsides, too; one parent had to make a "no cell phones during carpool" rule after the kids talked nonstop on the devices.

To keep a child's cell phone use under control, Blecherman suggests following these steps, gathered from conversations with other moms and dads:

  1. Research your options. Websites like CNET and MSNBC often have articles and reviews of phones and calling plans.
  2. Talk with your child about how the cell phone should be used before buying one.
  3. Many kids use text messaging extensively; find out whether your child is interested in this or other services and choose a plan together.
  4. When signing up for a plan, decline games and extras such as daily jokes; the extra charges add up quickly.
  5. Monitor the plan monthly to be certain it's a good fit. Make it clear to your child that you'll be reviewing the bill each month and that any abuses will result in loss of privileges.