The kids-and-tech think tank Common Sense Media supports giving children cell phones once they're old enough to go places by themselves. (A Nielsen poll showed most kids who get them are 9 or 10.) The other important factor when you make the call for your kid: impulse control. Clearly, you can -- and might want to -- limit text or photo-sending capabilities if you're not sure these will be used responsibly.
glowPhone, by Firefly Mobile: Evolving from its original incarnation as the kid phone that only calls Mom, the glowPhone can store 50 numbers and receive texts (but no sending). In addition to its hefty parental controls, you can also buy into limited-calling plans that can teach kids a good lesson in budgeting. Phones from $50; service plans from $5 a month Ages 8 to 18
Jitterbug: Okay, the Jitterbug was developed as a phone for seniors, but its simplified, icon-free menu and oversize buttons can make it a good pick for kids as well. "Those big-button phones could be awesome for five-year-olds," says Allison Druin, Ph.D., "even if the older adults they're made for wouldn't be too happy to hear me say that." Phones from $150; service plans from $15 a month Ages 8 to 12 (or 55 and up)
Kajeet: This kid-centric phone service wipes away a lot of the worry factor for parents by putting them in charge of almost everything. From your PC, you can set blackout times when the phone simply won't work, block certain numbers, designate contacts as text-able or not, and even activate a GPS locator built into the phone. Tweens and teens may bristle at the lack of privacy, but they'll be happy to have a sweetly equipped phone, like the LG Rumor with a full qwerty keyboard and built-in camera. Phones from $25 (though the Rumor is $200); service plans from $5 a month Ages 8 to 18
Christopher Healy is the author of Pop Culture: The Sane Man's Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood.