What Age is the Right Age for Kids to Have Their First Cell-phone?

My twins are 11-years old. A select few of their friends carry cell-phones. My niece is 14-years old. Most of her friends already have cell-phones. My kids have asked us a couple of times for their own individual phones but have not pushed the issue when we’ve refused. My niece craves for and argues for one, but has no choice since her parents have refused to oblige her.
So is there really a right age at which they can start having their own mobiles?
I don’t know!
I did the next best thing in an attempt to find an answer. I crowd-sourced and asked my friends on Facebook whether 11 years was an acceptable age for children to have cell-phones.
Obviously I had touched a nerve; the responses started virtually instantaneously and have still not stopped, 72 hours later. Some friends had no qualms about giving cell-phones to their kids at the age of 11 and some wanted to wait till they were over 14, but the vast majority was of the opinion that as long as the kids understood the rules of the game, they could have a phone for emergencies and for the times when they were out of the house.
These two quotes sum up the overall mood. Anil, “Treat a telephone as an instrument of communication…period…don’t associate good parenting with it…”, and Aarti, “trust them and try not to make a big deal out of it and so in effect they too will not give too much importance to the cell-phone…the more you resist, the more it persists…so just take it easy”.
Two month ago, we converted one of our cell-phones into an emergency phone that is given to the kids when they go for picnics or to birthday parties so that their travel and pick-up can be better coordinated. The rest of the times, it stays locked up. Funnily, till date, they have never misused it…in fact a couple of times they didn’t even pick up the phone when we called them simply because they forgot they had one.
On the other hand, we hear stories of children who get hooked and addicted and are constantly texting or calling their friends, sometimes well into the night. But the more I think I about it, the more it seems that the problem may be ours and not our kids’. Is it really an issue to be texting or talking all the time? As long as it doesn’t affect their studies, their sports and their reading…does it even matter?
Or are we artificially setting boundaries and perversely delaying the age at which our kids can use this communication tool simply because it entered our lives only when we were entering our 30s? A tool that is now virtually part of our very being! What if we too had had cell-phones at the age of 11? Would we then have disallowed our children from using cell-phones and set an age barrier? What will our children do with their kids?
In any case, as of now, my kids don’t have cell-phones for daily use. And funnily, they don’t seem to be too bothered at this point in time. Or is it also just possible that the 11-years old kids of today are already perhaps a generation different from those who were 11-years old just five years back and hopefully may not get as obsessed with these devices as the current 16-plus kids are? Or am I just over-reaching here?
Does anyone have answers?

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