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We were in the middle of a dance at my son's elementary school a few weeks ago when he marched up to me with a serious look on his face. He had a pressing question on his mind: When could he get a phone?

Phones may have been a non-issue generations ago -- other than pressing your parents for your own phone line -- but that certainly isn't the case anymore. Phones are a road map to independence and as kids watch their parents with noses buried in their own devices, of course they want in on the fun.

My son is 9. He just started emailing friends at school and he certainly has no need for a phone. He does some after-school activities but my husband and I are usually along at each one. 

And one part of his body definitely doesn't need a phone: his developing brain. Studies have shown excessive screen time can affect language development in children, create behavioral issues and affect sleep.

A study last year that used MRIs to look at the development of white matter in kids 3 to 5 found that the children who had more than an hour of screen time a day had more disorganized, undeveloped white matter in their brains. And white matter plays a key role in the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

And screens don't just come in the form of phones. As we all know, we're bombarded with screens from sunrise to sunset through computers, televisions and tablets. Our phones are just one part of the screen onslaught.

But when is the right time to get a child a phone? According to Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study, the average age for a child getting his or her phone is 10.3. That's changed from a decade ago when the average was between 12 and 13, according to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center.

According to the same Digital Trends study, kids primarily use a phone for texting. 

Before any parents gets his or her child a phone, FamilyEducation.com, a popular parenting website, suggests asking yourself some important questions. The first question is why your child needs a phone. If your kid does a lot of sports or other activities, maybe a cellphone isn't such a bad idea.

Other questions include asking yourself how responsible your child is and does he or she understand safety issues. And does your child understand what the phone should be used for and its proper functions?

Technology -- not to mention social media -- has made parenting so much more complicated these days. Our job to protect our children is a lot thornier when we can't always control who and how they're connected with our people. Parents can put controls in place but it's still challenging.

As for my son, I'd like to hold off on getting him a cellphone as long as possible. He has the rest of his life to have his face in front of a screen. His classmates may be getting phones -- one just got her second phone for her 10th birthday -- but those aren't my kids. In the end, it's our call. 

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

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