With children back in school and new iPhones coming out, many parents this fall are thinking of buying a phone -- even a basic phone -- as a good way to reach their children.
But when is the right time?
And how do you know the device you're giving them is safe and won't connect them with inappropriate websites and dangerous people?
Leslie Umbarger was upgrading her iPhone at the AT&T store recently and said her little boy wouldn't be ready for one for a few more years.
"About age 12," she said.
Any younger, she said, and "at that age, they are not really thinking about taking care of it."
Average age for first phone younger than ever
But according to AT&T, the average age for a first phone is getting lower every year.
Austin Godsey of AT&T said, "the trend we've seen the past couple of years is between the age of 9 and 10." ''
That's 5th grade for most children.
Godsey also says most parents today skip the starter flip phone because it doesn't offer enough parental controls.
Smartphones, he says, come with a slew of controls for parents to limit screen time and keep tabs on who their child is texting or talking with.
Each major carrier offers apps for parents to supervise phone use:
- AT&T offers itsSecure Family app.
- Verizon has Smart Family.
- T-Mobile offers Family Mode.
With AT&T's parental controls, Godsey demonstrated, "you can see all the caller logs and details."
More importantly, you can locate your child at all times.
"It's really great for a parent to be able to locate their son or daughters' phone," he said, "so they can see where they are and make sure they are safe."
Things to do before giving them a phone
Most parents realize that buying a cell phone for a child is less of a want and more of a need these days.
But tech experts say there are some steps you need to take before giving a child their first device.
Marvin Maldonado of the extended protection company Asurion says age is just a number and that there is no set age to give a child their first phone.
"It's always going to depend on the level of maturity that your child shows for you to be able to sort of unlock all of that technology for them," he said.
Maldonado suggests easing a child in by starting with just calls and texts.
If they handle that well, he says, let your child download a favorite app, like YouTube (with parental controls, you control which apps they can have).
- Set up the device with your child.
- Always know their password.
- Know which apps are downloaded.
Most importantly, though, is to have a conversation about responsible phone use and social media use.
"Make sure that they know that sharing personal information, phone numbers, addresses is not a practice that they should be doing," he said.
Also, remember, kids will be kids.
That means you should buy a good screen protector and case (don't go cheap) and consider a warranty or protection plan, so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
Like" John Matarese Money on Facebook
Follow John on Instagram @johnmataresemoney
Follow John on Twitter (@JohnMatarese)
For more consumer news and money-saving advice, go to www.dontwasteyourmoney.com.