Before the holidays, we tackled questions about when kids are ready for e-readers and tablets, as well as handheld gaming devices. But one of the most frequent topics we’re asked about is just when kids should get their own cell phone.

Of course, with any gadget, you need gauge how responsible your kids are. Not just whether they’re able to keep track of the phone, but also if they’re ready for everything that phone ownership entails. This is especially pertinent if you’re considering a smart phone with Internet access. It’s essential that children are aware of cyber bullying and privacy laws, which can be difficult for even some tweens to fully comprehend.

So with all that in mind, here’s what we recommend when it comes to getting a cell phone for your child.

Firefly cell phone for kids

Elementary-Aged Kids

By all accounts, an elementary-aged kid probably doesn’t need a cell phone. That said, there are special circumstances, where perhaps a child is walking to and from school with friends, or taking public transportation and might need a way for parents to check in on them. Additionally, I’ve seen divorced parents give their kids a cell phone so they can communicate easily with the other parent while they are away.

In either case, I’d start them out on an inexpensive phone with a pre-paid or month-to-month plan, like a Firefly, that has super limited capabilities — calling or texting only the numbers you program into the address book, for example.

Tweens and Teens

As your kids get older and have shown some responsibility with a starter phone, you could consider upgrading them to a cell phone that looks a little cooler than a kids’ cell phone. You’ll find a slew of pre-paid or month-to-month plans with more mature looking phones at Best Buy.

Smart phones for tweens and teens

If you think your older kiddo is ready for a smart phone, consider attaching it to your own family plan so they have unlimited texting and in-network calling. You can also set a password for app purchases to avoid any you haven’t approved.

Just keep in mind that kids can be serial texters and Facebook addicts. Those kids will be better off sticking to the cheap phone until they can show they’re capable of respecting limits with a smartphone. On the flip side, there are plenty of kids who benefit educationally from the apps and are able to control their usage, therefore making them good candidates for a smart phone.

Smart Advice for First Cell Phones

Like any gadget, we strongly recommend talking to your kids about expectations and appropriate usage. Set limits! And please encourage them to talk to you immediately if they receive a questionable text message or phone call, with the understanding that your number one job is to make sure they are safe.

We’re big fans of having kids earn their gadgets; having older kids pay for the cell phone or the monthly plan might help in encouraging more responsibility on their part.

And while your kids might beg you for a phone because “all the other kids have one,” you know your child best. –Kristen