You've seen (and heard) cell-savvy teenagers talking and texting day and night, their frenzied thumbwork interrupted by an occasional ringtone blast from Kanye West. Now the 'tweens want theirs, too.
With Hannah Montana ringtones, sleek phones in candy colors and parent-friendly calling plans, the steady stream of "I have to have one!" can become unstoppable.
How young is too young? It might be younger than you think.
Experts say children are ready to handle a cell phone around age 10 or 11, as they grow more independent and are starting to walk home, go shopping or spend time at the library without a grownup.
"Increasingly, kids in sixth and seventh grade have cell phones, and your child might, depending on your community, be in the minority not to have one," says Diane Debrovner, the health and psychology editor of Parents magazine.
A family's logistical situation should help determine whether a kid needs a phone. Is the child alone after school if his parents work, is he traveling between the homes of separated parents, is she going to after-school activities on her own?
Kate Mulvany of Stamford, Conn., says the desire for peace of mind ultimately made her decide to buy her 12-year-old daughter Meghan a phone a year ago, even though Meghan wanted it for social and status reasons.
"She's going out on her own more often, so it's nice to know I can reach her," Mulvany says.
Parents have made teens and their 8- to 12-year-old younger siblings the fastest growing segment of the U.S. cell phone market, says Jill Aldort, a senior analyst at Yankee Group. And as of the middle of last year, 72 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds had cell phones,
Parents should also consider whether their child is ready to use a phone responsibly.
Debrovner says to consider whether your children will remember to charge the phone and turn it on, and whether they will lose it or forget to check for a message.
"Do they do their homework and remember to turn it in? Get out of the house for school in the morning? Do they follow their rules?" Debrovner says. "If you've given them certain privileges and they can handle them, then I think a cell phone is reasonable next step."
Michael Leatherman, 11, got a phone in August at age 10 because, with both parents working, he was going to start going home alone after school. He has a six-minute solo walk from the bus stop to his home in Wellington, Fla., says his mother, Janell Leatherman.
"It's for the walk from the bus to the house," Leatherman says. "He has the phone really for safety reasons, but he also uses it socially."
Michael says: "It's really cool. I feel like I actually have a way to contact my parents now."
For all the benefits, there are concerns.
Kids can rack up big bills through texting and downloading songs. But parental controls on many phones allow Internet access to be blocked and let parents limit incoming and outgoing calls to only numbers entered in the phone book.
Another problem can be unwanted calls and messages. But kids shouldn't automatically ignore calls from numbers they don't know because it could be a parent themselves that's stuck and calling from another phone, says Dr. Regina Milteer, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Communications and Media.
Rather, she says, kids should be told to not give out their number to strangers or post it on the Internet and be sure to hang up if they don't know a caller.
Cell phones may give children privacy that parents don't necessarily want them to have. In some households, tweens and teens have abandoned the landline in favor of the cell phone, so the notion of a call coming into the home phone for all to hear has disappeared. That means parents don't know when kids are on the phone or who's on the other end.
"The biggest complaint I've heard is from parents who say their teens use the cell phone excessively in the night to communicate, often affecting their sleep and ability to be alert in school," says Milteer, a pediatrician in Virginia.
Parents can set up rules deciding when and how the phones will be used.
Milteer, who gave her daughter a cell phone at age 12 a few years ago, recommends parents educate their children, learn to trust them and, if necessary, stash the phone in their own bedrooms at night and punish when necessary.
"The moral is, more than to be the snoop is to be the educator," Milteer says. "Parents should be vigilant and continue to educate their children about using their cell phone safely."
While there are 8- and 9-year-olds with their own mobile phones, children younger than 10 are generally not recommended to have phones because they are too much responsibility, says Milteer says. Although, she notes, there are always circumstances that may dictate otherwise.
And some families just feel no need for their kids to ride the wavelength.
Elliott Bolzan, 11, hasn't asked for a phone yet though his friends have them. Still, he concedes, "I do want one."
But to his mother, who picks him up at his school nearby their house every day, there is no need until, perhaps, the early teenage years.
"He's not regularly alone," says his mother, Deborah Bolzan, of Harrison, N.Y. "I just think they're too young and they don't need them yet. It makes them grow up too fast."