By Dr. Jon McCaine, Clinical Psychologist at Bayless Healthcare

Fact: The average age that a child receives their first cell phone around 11 years old.

Fact: Of children ages 12-17, 75 percent have a personal cell phone.

This is a reality that provides both benefits and risks that are important for parents to consider when deciding whether or not a child is ready to have a cell phone. If you are considering allowing your child to have a cell phone as they head back-to-school, start by getting educated and talking to your kids about the dangers and consequences associated with inappropriate cell phone use.

Cell phones give kids access to a world that’s both portable and private. Unlike when they talk on the phone at home, with a cell phone you’re not there to monitor what they’re saying or sending, or whom they’re talking to. Unfortunately, this access means that kids can use these powerful communication tools irresponsibly.

While your child should have private moments to themselves and with others, it is important to monitor their actions and ensure they aren’t using their phone inappropriately or sending/receiving inappropriate, unhealthy or threatening messages from others.

How? By using parental controls.

If your child’s cell phone has access to the internet, find out if your service provider offers some sort of parental control feature to which you can subscribe. For teen age children, service providers have parental controls but effectiveness varies a great deal. Be aware of parental control options and what can be altered or added to your child’s phone without prior authorization.

Personal security is also important. Phones should be password locked and no personal information including location and phone number should be provided to anyone other than family and trusted friends. Be aware of geo-location functions including those that are default options that do not require activation. If you can locate your child, others may be able to do so as well.

Finally, designate time slots for talking — perhaps after homework and chores are completed, or before dinner. Don’t let constant calls interrupt family time. It’s easy for a chatty teen to cuddle up to a phone at bedtime, so check periodically.

The issue of cellphones and teenagers can create hot debate. While many parents are likely to be torn between wondering if their teens are ready for the responsibility and not wanting them to stick out among their phone-toting peers, when used properly, cell phones can be a useful tool for both parents and teens as school starts back up this fall.