Deciding when your child is ready to use a cell phone

"I need a cell phone. Everyone I know already has one!"

Sound familiar? It does to June Grey. Grey and her husband, Keith, decided to get a phone for their oldest son, Xander, just before he turned 10.

"He kept telling me that he was the only one of his friends that didn't have a cell phone," said Grey.

Claiming to be the only one left out seems to be the oldest kid trick in the book but, in this case, Xander may not have been too far off the mark. According to a 2010 Kaiser Foundation media study, 31 percent of 8- to 10-year-olds and 69 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds have cell phones.

The cell-phone decision can be tricky since most parents can't look back to see how their own moms and dads handled the issue. So how can you know when your child is ready?

The biggest factor for Grey was her son's increasing independence. Xander, now 11, spends most days playing with neighborhood friends. Joked Grey, "In order to call him in for dinner, I'd literally have to bike around the neighborhood!"

Tom Bates, principal at Tremont Elementary School in Upper Arlington, agreed that safety is usually the No. 1 reason parents get cell phones for children. However, Bates said, "Families have to make that decision based on what is best for them and not what everyone else is doing."

Parents, Bates added, should consider "whether the child will be responsible with the cell phone."

Responsibility was another key factor in helping the Greys make their decision for Xander and daughter Alyssa, who recently got a phone after turning 9. But Alyssa, said her mom, "often forgets to bring her phone or charge it so it doesn't help very much." Grey now says she thinks Alyssa was just a little too young for the phone.

"We'll see how things go with Alayna," Grey said about her youngest daughter, now 7. "But I think the best age for us is not before 10."

Age issues aside, Grey has enjoyed the benefits of constant communication with her kids. Xander loves to text his mom funny things throughout the day and let her know he's made it to a friend's house safely.

"It's almost like we talk more because it's opened up a whole new way to communicate," said Grey.

Tom Bates, principal at Upper Arlington's Tremont Elementary School, suggests that once parents have made a decision to purchase a cell phone for their child, they should set clear expectations for its use.

A child should be able to:

Know where the phone is at all times

Keep the phone charged

Limit text messages and usage minutes to avoid overuse charges

Understand the phone is not a toy

Not use the phone during school, after bedtime or at other inappropriate times