What should parents ask themselves before handing over a cell phone to a teen or pre-teen?

Educators and social scientists offer these guidelines:

Q: Is the phone truly necessary?

A: At most schools, a student can make a phone call during the day by just walking into the office and asking to use the phone. Pay phones are now rare but most school districts object to cell phone use during the school day and especially during classes, even if the caller is mom or dad.

Q: What about after school?

A: Until the office is closed, students on campus can usually use a school phone to call parents for rides. They may not find a pay phone to use at an off-campus, after-school activity. But most coaches and scout leaders have their own cell phones and are usually glad to let young people borrow the phone on occassion.

Q: If you do buy your pre-teen a phone, how can you prevent inappropriate use?

A: Check your child's phone bill. Some kids are using cell phones to make the calls they wouldn't want to make in the school office. And they may be calling people you don't want them to call.

Q: What about cell phones in emergency situations?

A: The National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based consulting firm, found in a survey that about 68 percent of school-based officers believe that student use of cell phones during an emergency would detract from safety. The report said student cell phone use could overload the telephone system during a crisis, "hamper rumor control," and encourage more parents to come to school and get in the way.

Q: What about the financial commitment?

A: With teens and pre-teens added to a family's cellular plan, usage can get out of hand. Some parents complain that their kids use up all their plan's shared minutes. Remember when cell phones were considered a luxury? Have they now become a necessity? That's for parents to decide.