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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

"But everybody's got one…!"

(When it comes to cell phones, they might just be right!)

The average age at which kids start using and owning cell phones keeps getting younger. That's the news from Nielsen, a leading market research company.

In 2008, the average age when kids started to borrow a cell phone was 8.6 years; in 2009, it was down to just 8 years old. When it comes to phone ownership, in 2008, a child was typically given a cell phone at age 10.1 years; by 2009, it was down to 9.7 years old.

By age 10, roughly half of all children own a cell phone. By age 11, it's six out of 10. And by age 12, fully three-quarters of all children have their own phone.

How have kids been using phones in the last year? Two-thirds of tween cell phone owners took pictures with the phone's camera; half spent time playing the pre-installed games;  four in ten activated the speakerphone feature; 28 per cent filmed a video clip; and 24 per cent listened to music through the phone's MP3 capability.

Also, in the last 12 months, more than half of the youngest owners (age 8) used their cell phone to send text messages. That figure soared to 81 per cent for 12-year-old cell users. The vast majority of text messages were directed to friends and family (90%).

All other cell phone uses tracked in the single digits, such as voting on TV shows (8%), buying a ringtone or music (9%), buying wallpaper or a screensaver (4%), buying a game (5%), responding to an ad (5%) or looking up their horoscope (4%).

Parental controls

Perhaps surprisingly, given all the publicity about cyber bullying, more than half of all tween parents do not take advantage of any of the parental controls offered by service providers, although the use of these controls is increasing.

Among those who do activate parental controls, 20 per cent limit the number of calls, texts or instant messages; 17 per cent restrict downloads; 16 per cent limit talk time or voice minute allocations; and 15 per cent limit mobile website access.

While the use of formal parental controls may not be high, just about all parents apply their own restrictions. Sixty per cent prohibit downloads that incur charges but other restrictions are more about when the phone can be used rather than how. Forty-two per cent prohibit use at the dinner table; 35 per cent don't allow use of the phone before homework is completed; and 40 per cent make continued cell phone use conditional on maintaining good grades.

Can cell phone ownership get any younger? How young is too young? Share your thoughts with the Online Mom.

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