Folders, pencils and... iPhones? The contents of a grade schooler's backpack used to be standard. Now it's not uncommon to find a cell phone wedged between a sack lunch and some Smencils. But are these kids too young? Experts weigh in on the pros and cons of giving cell phones to children as young as first grade.

A first grader is too young

According to Nancy Irwin, PsD, "Unless the first grader is a working actor and needs last minute info, it is my professional opinion that yes, indeed 6 years old is way too young for a cell phone."

"Basically, if they are not old enough to understand that it needs to be charged, turned off at key times, etc., then they are too young for the responsibility of a phone. A 6-year-old's job is to be 6 years old! They are learning how to focus, not multitask. Imagine being a teacher in front of a class of 30 first graders with cell phones ringing and texting!" says Irwin.

Age is just a number

"I got my daughter a small phone when she was 3 -- yes, 3," says Rebecca Scott, owner of Scott Project Solutions. "My husband and I were divorced and due to joint custody, she was at his house a few times per week. While she was there, I got her a small phone that only had four buttons (pre-programmed numbers) and an emergency button. The phone was always attached to her bag so she never lost it and with the pre-programmed buttons, she couldn't just call anyone.

"When she was four, I had an emergency and because she had her own phone and we'd discussed emergencies, she was able to help me," says Scott.

If your child is too young, he may not understand the dangers

Dr. Jennifer Powell-Lunder, clinical psychologist and co-author of the book Teenage as a Second Language, says the cons of providing your child with a cell phone at too young an age are many. "The greatest concern is the inadvertent sharing of information that could pose a danger to your child. Children may not really grasp the potential dangers. This is due in great part to brain development. Because children are by nature egocentric, they have a false sense of invulnerability."

But a child might need a cell phone for safety reasons

Deborah Gilboa, MD, mother of four and parenting speaker, reminds parents that children of any independent age may need a phone for safety reasons. "If your first grader walks a mile to school with other kids and you feel the need to check in for his safety, or know that he can contact you should a problem arise, then this might be appropriate. However, this can be accomplished with a flip phone that is programmed to only call three different adult phone numbers (and only accepts incoming calls from those same numbers) and 911."

How do you know when your child is ready?

Is there something that can be done to determine a child's cell phone readiness? Irwin suggests giving your child a trial run for a week. "Check in with his teacher and ensure they are following the rules. Continue to monitor that, and if that works out successfully, then consider getting him one of his own. In this day and age, most toddlers can handle a cell phone, and anything else that is electronic. However, the thing to learn here is focus."

So what if your young child says, yes, but you still say, no?

"You handle it the same as their desire for anything else that is not age appropriate (shaving legs, getting ears pierced, driving, etc.). Stress that you are not telling them no, but rather, you are saying not yet, later, or when they are x years old," says Irwin.

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