NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – These days it is hard to think of anyone who doesn’t have a cell phone or smartphone and that includes many kids who are not yet even in junior high.

“Tweens”, children from ages eight to 12, is the fastest growing customer group for the cell phone business. But when does a child really need a cell phone?

Kristen Swanson’s four children are always on the go. From cheerleading to agriculture, they all have different interests, but they share one thing in common: each one has a cell phone.

“Once they hit junior high, and they started doing things and going places and I needed to get a hold of them, that’s when we gave them their cell phones,” Kristen said.

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Kristen also says the main reason each child has a cell is because the family does not have a home phone.

Kristen Swanson is not unusual. The National Consumers League found nearly six out of ten parents of “tweens” gave their children cell phones. The top reasons given were safety, tracking the child’s after-school activities and the child asked for one

Dr. Pete Stavinoha is a neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical center in Dallas. The tween cell craze, he believes, could hurt many children.

“As a psychologist, I’m mostly concerned that it’s not simply a substitute for those face-to-face social skills that are really going to be invaluable as they grow into adolescence and adulthood,” Stavinoha said.

Dr. Stavinoha also believes parents should make this decision very carefully.

“I think parents really need to give this more thought than simply giving in to what their child simply wants.  Consider the positive benefits, and weighing those against the potential risks.”

When trying to decide whether to give your child a cell phone, the National Consumers League suggests you ask these questions:

  • Does he or she really need one?
  • Will it be used to stay in touch with parents, friends or for emergency use only?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Are they mature enough?

“Parents should be monitoring how that child is developing. If things aren’t going the right way, that’s when the child is showing they’re not capable,” Dr. Stavinoha said.

The Swansons spend around $250 a month to keep their family connected. Mom and dad pay for the basics, but each child pays the extras like apps or internet access. Kristen thinks she made the right call for her family.

“It really gives me peace of mind knowing that when she comes home after school, she has a way to contact me,” Kristen said.

Many schools are giving students more freedom to carry cell phones. But parents should always check with their child’s school to see what its policy is about having a cell on campus.

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