When is your child ready for a cell phone?

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - You've been busy getting them the supplies your need to start school like paper, pencils, and backpacks. But they say they need one more thing, that everybody has...a cell phone. But what is the appropriate age to say yes?

Licensed clinical counselor Dr. Charles Pemberton gets that question all the time. His answer often starts with a question of his own.

"The biggest question is why are you getting a child a cell phone?"

The answer he often gets from parents: my child needs it for security, so she feels secure when she's left alone, and I feel secure when I leave her.

"First of all a child shouldn't be home by themselves until they are 12 or older anyway," says Pemberton. So, he says, 12 or 13-years-old should be the youngest a child should need a phone for security.

Of course, that won't satisfy your child under 12 who will ask over and over. In that case you want to ask yourself: how responsible is your child?

"In a lot of ways asking for a phone is no different than asking for a dog or a pet," Pemberton says. "You wouldn't just run out and buy your child a pet.. you would want them to show you responsibility first."

So responsibility is key, because with a phone comes new levels of responsibility and rules: when to use it, who you can call, text, and picture taking, sending, and heaven forbid, sexting.

"The first thing is sit down before your purchase the phone and talk to your child about the dangers that could happen," Pemberton suggests.

There's also the fact that you're spending money on a phone which can be broken or easily lost, and a phone-plan which will cost you every month. You also need to think about how much phone you want your child to have.

"If you're giving your child a smart phone at 12-years-old, what are they going to want at 14 or 16?" asks Pemberton. With phone technology evolving at break-neck speed, it could easily cost you a lot if your child is trying to keep up with the next, best thing.

So, over 12 to 13 with rules and responsibility, is OK, according to Pemberton. Under 12, not necessary he says, not even for security since they should never be alone at that age.

But he has another suggestion to consider, and it's actually a pretty smart idea:.

"There can be a family phone, you loan out," suggests Pemberton. "So, you're going to grandma's...here's a phone you can use." That way the phone is there if you or your child needs it, but still keeps the control with you.

One more consideration if you're still on the fence, considering giving your pre-teen a cell phone: video game ratings that you use as a guide for the games they play at home, do not apply to video games on the cell phone. Currently there is no rating system for those, so unlike the computer or gaming system that you can monitor, what they do on the phone when they are out of site, is out of your control.

If you're still convinced your child needs a cell phone, you have several options.

All the major carriers have parental controls that you can set up through an online account that limit web access, times calls can be made, and when text messages can go out and come in.  Most of those options come with a small fee.  Also, most companies don't have specific phones designed for young kids, with easy to use buttons.

There are separate pay as you go companies like Kajeet  and Firefly, that specialize in children's cell phones - with stricter parental controls. The phones are more expensive, the cheapest we found was around $50, but the plans start as low as five bucks a month.  And be aware: they are prepaid companies, you buy minutes, and you lose them!

The Firefly phone only has five buttons, with speed dial for mom and dad, and stores about 20 numbers. It's good for kids in elementary school if you're thinking of getting one at that age.

Kajeet is basically your average - pay-as-you-go wireless company, except they have the tight parental controls on their normal phones. That might be better if you're not looking for a commitment, but you want message and phone capabilities you can control - it also has a GPS feature, so you can always find the phone (presumably with the kid)

GPS locators also come with the major carriers - but it adds 10 bucks a month to your bill.

Copyright WAVE News 2011. All rights reserved.