Your child's reasons for wanting a phone are probably pretty straightforward. The social pressure to have one, especially for texting, can be intense as early as sixth grade. But for parents, one of the biggest reasons to even consider getting a young child a cell phone has to do with one thing: safety. No one wants a child stuck in a sketchy situation without the ability to easily call home.
Heck, no one wants a child stuck in "running a little late" situation without the ability to call home. The question is, though, is that a realistic concern?
Is my child alone a lot?
There's nothing wrong with getting your child a phone for social reasons; but if the main reason you're considering the expenditure is so your child can always get in touch with you, and vice versa, you'll want to ask yourself whether your child is alone often enough to make the phone worthwhile.
If your child is, say, 12, and you do a lot of group movie-theater and mall drop-offs, it might be entirely reasonable to give your child a phone to call home. Likewise, if he or she gets to and from school alone or does a lot of solo afterschool activities, the safety issue may be a reason to take the plunge.
If, on the other hand, your child rides with you to and from school and is otherwise always in the presence of a responsible adult -- in other words, is an 8-year-old -- you may want to reconsider the cell-phone-for-safety reasoning.
Is my child responsible?
It goes without saying, a child who regularly loses toys, headbands, house keys, school books and lunch bags, and has been known to return from school with just one shoe is probably not going to hang on to a cell phone for very long. Why bother?
Does my child typically follow my rules?
Most smart parents lay ground rules when they give their child his or her own phone. Otherwise, you're looking not only at potential (and potentially exorbitant) charges but also, in the case of Internet-connected, camera- and/or video-equipped phones, some safety concerns about how, when and with whom your little one is communicating. If your child is the rule-breaking type, it might be asking for trouble to entrust him or her with a phone.
These are the big questions to ask, but there's another issue that a lot of parents simply don't think about in this debate: Do you want your child to have a greatly increased level of privacy? For younger children, such as elementary and middle-school kids, you might find that adding a cell phone to the mix leads to you learning far less about their lives (with teens, it may not be a notable decrease). Understand that while you may be primarily interested in safety and family communication, your child is likely more interested in the ability to communicate privately with friends. Determine how much you might miss out on if your child is able to communicate with peers exclusively by text.
Increasingly, though, these last two concerns are being effectively addressed by mobile-phone carriers and software companies, leading to some interesting dynamics in the family phone plan.