Today, a teen's gift list is likely to include a cell phone right next to requests for video games and toys. But in the hands of a child without direction, a cell phone can be an enormous problem. How can you avoid the pitfalls and teach your teenager to use the phone responsibly?

With 25% of cell phone revenues coming from children and teens, it's no question that charges for excess minutes, text messages and email services can be a problem for parents. This is especially true now that cell phone companies are marketing to ever younger children.

What's more, as companies develop new features, parents will be repeatedly under pressure to buy new and improved phones for their kids. Then, there are all the accessories, such as carrying cases that match those of their friends, as well as the coolest new ring tones.

Which Plan?

Local unlimited plans can work if your child understands that they will be responsible for paying for excess minutes. Calls within the same network are usually free under the plan, which allows you to stay in contact with your child at any time.

If, on the other hand, your kid can't be trusted with minutes, opt for a prepaid plan. With these plans, when the minutes run out, the service goes dead.

Disturbing Use of Cell Phones

A few disturbing trends have emerged among teenagers with cell phones. Intimidating, and sometimes threatening, text messages are being sent to others. It has become so prevalent, in fact, that the practice has been given a name – "cyber-bullying."

Another trend is the use of “texting” and internet features to cheat during tests in school. But school isn't the only place your child can get into trouble with a cell phone. Your child needs to understand that there are laws against taking photographs and videos of people without their knowledge. The photo feature of a cell phone needs to be used carefully.

While some states have laws against driving while talking on a cell phone, it is best to avoid this practice. If your teen sees you doing it, he will probably also do it. For a teen with little driving experience, this is an accident waiting to happen. A hands-free device is an absolute necessity.

If your child spends time in internet chat rooms, make sure her cell phone number isn't being given out to anyone and everyone on the internet. Not only is your child at risk to predators on the internet, but these people will also reach out via cell phone if they get your child's number.

Sometimes, it makes sense to put your agreement with your child in writing, especially if violations of rules have been a problem. This will let your child know exactly what the consequences will be if the rules are broken again.

The Practicalities

If you haven't yet gotten a cell phone for your child, sit down and really think about how it will be used. The fact that all of her friends have one is not a good enough reason for the expense of a phone.

On the other hand, if it will allow you to keep better tabs on your child's whereabouts and/or make connections for pick-ups from school and activities, it may actually be a good investment. If you're divorced, a cell phone can be very helpful while your child is staying with the other parent, especially if you'd prefer to keep your contact with your former spouse to a minimum.

Another consideration is that emergencies do happen, and once your teen is driving, it simply makes sense to have a cell phone in case the car breaks down. Some telephones even have GPS tracking so that you can know where your child is 24/7.

Setting Limits

If you decide your younger child should have a cell phone, or if your teen is prone to breaking the rules, many phones have restrictions to allow you to set specific limits. For example, you can set the numbers that can be called and the numbers from which calls can be received. You can prevent internet access, text messaging, and other services that can be both expensive and problematic.

Still other phones have a timer feature which allows you to set the phone to shut down when you specify. This prevents it from ringing at school and keeps your kid from talking on the phone all night under the covers.

If you want to teach your teen to use the phone responsibly, your best bet is to require that extra use, email and text messages are paid out of allowance, wages from a job, or through chores around the house. If you set the list of numbers that can be called, your child could be responsible for paying for any numbers that are not on your list.

Many parents have a fear that their children will be on cell phones all the time, even at the dinner table. Again, the only way for children and teens to use cell phones responsibly is to have limits set and enforced by you. This includes restricting cell phone use where a land line is available so that family dinner time can stay out of the technological age.

Author's Bio: 

Barbara McRae, Master Certified Coach, Parent/Teen Expert, and Founder of, "A Neon Whispers ™ Company", is the bestselling author of Coach Your Teen to Success . Barbara coaches internationally, facilitates workshops, and has been featured in various media outlets, including radio, TV, national magazines, and newspapers.