Long gone are the days when all your daughter wanted for Christmas was her two front teeth. Now she wants a cell phone.

All her friends have one. And despite headlines about cyberbullying, sexting and texting while driving, you embrace the idea that cell phones are a way of life. “After all,” you tell yourself, “it would help me stay connected with her between school, volleyball practice and babysitting jobs.”

But before you comparison shop for talk, text and data plans, take time to reflect on what bringing a cell phone into your child’s life really means. It’s an instant connection between your child and the world—and all the good and bad things that brings.

These three tips can help you ensure your child’s experience is positive and age-appropriate:

1.    Get the right phone and data plan. Of all the wondrous things that cell phones can do, talking is probably the feature your child is least interested in. However, not all kids have the maturity to handle texting, voice mail, Internet access and taking photos and videos. Make a truly honest assessment of your child’s readiness.

You may find that a simple phone, with bare-bones features and a modest data plan, makes more sense than a flashy smartphone with all the latest apps. You can always upgrade the phone as your child grows. Also, if you do opt for a smartphone, assess whether or not you want its GPS capabilities activated. Its ability to instantly display your child’s exact whereabouts could potentially compromise his or her physical safety.

2.    Establish clear ground rules. Mom and Dad buy the cell phone. And if it’s misused, Mom and Dad can take it away. Decide what’s right for your family, but we recommend three non-negotiables:

•    No cell phones in the classroom
•    Phones off at night (and out of the bedroom)
•    No phones at the dinner table.

3.    Take a stay-true-to-your-values pledge. Remind your child that having a cell phone doesn’t change who he or she is. Mean texts are as off-limits as cruel talk. Ditto for uploading sexual, disrespectful or violent Internet content or forwarding inappropriate photos or hurtful messages from friends. And for older teens, make sure there’s no wiggle room: Texting and driving is never OK.

4.    Consider a monitoring tool.  Make it easy to safeguard your child’s privacy and reputation by signing up for a system like SocialScout. SocialScout provides parents with daily reports online and by email so you can make sure your child is making good online and mobile choices.

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