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Cell phones: a necessary back-to-school accessory?

       How did working parents survive before cell phones? Did they worry more than we do?

       As we fill our children's backpacks supplies, some may be wondering whether a wireless phone is a necessary back-to-school accessory.

     As a working parent, I love text messaging! With a quick text, I knew my two older kids had found the right school bus and were on their way home. With a quick text at lunchtime, I knew my daughter was feeling well enough (a few days after major surgery) to make it through her first day of school. Instant peace of mind!

      In the past two days since school began, I see kids calling their parents from their cells while walking home. I imagine the parent in their office, feeling relieved to hear the voice on the other end.

      A mom asked me the other day, "What's the right age to buy a child a cell?" My answer: "The age they have some independence and you need peace of mind."

   According to a parenting blog, a 2007 poll by MSN/Zogby found that 47% of adults believed children should be in high school before owning a cell phone. A more recent survey in the U.K. pegged the average age of first-time cell phone owners at eight. The Center on Media and Child Health Web site states that 54 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds will have a cell phone in the next three years.

   Of course, you should know that the stories of kids sending out thousands of texts in one month aren't hype. Yes, like most parents, after learning the hard way, I had to change plans to unlimited texting. CNN.com offers some great tips to consider before buying your child a cell phone. 

    This year, my children's middle school made the parents and kids sign a cell phone contract, forbiding usage in classrooms. I'm assuming then, that most middle schoolers have cell phones in their backpacks. For kids who walk home alone or stay after school for activities, I say, it's an absolute must. Middle school seems about the right time. 

     What do you think is the right age to make a cell phone a back-to-school neccessity?