A recent study
by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that three-quarters of all American teens have cell phones. Research by the academy indicates that most of these kids are getting these phones in middle school and, increasingly, even earlier than that.

The widespread use of cell phones by children raises important questions for parents. We’re going to try to answer some of them for you now.

Does My Kid Even Need a Cell Phone?
This is a tricky question to answer, because a lot depends upon the values and lifestyle of your family, but we’re going to go with: Probably.

There are very compelling reasons to equip your child with a cell phone, according to the AAP—not the least of which is giving your kid a way to reach you or emergency services if they find themselves in trouble. For children with medical conditions or other special needs, a cell phone can be a literal lifeline.

Beyond that, according to several studies of youth and technology, cell phones have become the new norm in terms of socializing. According to a study by YouthBeat, a market research division of C&R Research, 84% of teens with cell phones use them to stay in touch with friends, primarily via text messaging. (Among younger kids the percentage who use cell phones to socialize is much lower, at 22%.) As a parent you might not like the new normal, but it is what it is—and we all know how important a “normal” social life is to teens.

Read Related: Preparing Your Child for Middle School

What is the Right Age for My Child to Get Their Own Cell Phone?
The AAP is cautious about giving a specific recommended age at which a child is ready for his or her own cell phone. Families must consider their needs and the maturity level of the child before making such a decision. In general, however, middle school is a good time to start thinking about getting a cell phone for your child.

What Are the Pros of My Child Having a Cell Phone?

  • You and your child will stay in touch more easily.
  • If your child’s phone has a GPS tracking device, you might have an easier time finding them in the event that they go missing.
  • Your child will learn how to effectively use new technology in a world that increasingly demands such proficiency from its workforce.
  • If your kid’s phone has Internet capability, he or she will be able to do research on their phone.
  • If ground rules are established, a cell phone can be an opportunity to teach your child responsibility—including paying all or a portion of their own bill, keeping track of their minute usage and, of course, remembering where their phone is.
  • Kids who are driving will have access to emergency help in the event of an accident.

What Are the Cons of My Child Having a Cell Phone?

  • Easy access to Internet, if the phone offers it, can encourage cheating in school, or mental laziness. If you’re worried about this, you can get your child a bare-bones phone that only allows for texting and calling.
  • Kids who are driving age can put themselves at great risk if they text and drive. Talk to them about the dangers and make sure they understand.
  • Inappropriate texts, bullying, and secretive communications. Kids have always found ways to misbehave, but a cell phone offers a newer and often easier way to get into trouble. The best remedy, according to the AAP? Communicate with your kids, be honest about sexting (even if it embarrasses you), and monitor what they’re up to.
  • Expense. Though there is a wide spectrum of costs associate with cell phones, depending upon the bells and whistles you elect to purchase, the fact remains: Cell phones aren’t cheap. Have your older child contribute to the bill through chores or money earned at a part-time job.
  • Radiation. The jury is still out on this one, but many people believe cell phones emit dangerous levels of radiation that might put developing brains at risk.

Ultimately, it is up to you as a parent to decide whether or not to give your child a cell phone. We do hope to have been able to help make that decision easier for you.