How young is too young to have a cell phone? My 11 year old spends weekends away from mom and I need to keep in touch.
If you can make sure that your child has no unsupervised internet access, and can only call and receive calls from people approved by you, and not use it unless you need them to... then sure. It might make a difference where you live.
My 16 y/o has one and I still check to see who calls and she has no internet access because we do not pay for it. She can use the net at school and in the family room.
You asked specifically about cell phones, not smartphones. I think 11 is fine for a cell phone. I got my first cell phone when I was 8 because my school was 20km away from home and my dad wanted to make sure I could call him anytime. I do also think having a smartphone can still wait a few years because unlimited Internet access can be very distracting in school and social life. I even know lots of adults who can't handle that.
The fact I am still sitting on my bed typing this with my phone even though I have to be at work in 20min should be indication enough!
Our kids got phones when they started middle school (11 years old), since that's when they were frequently taking buses, staying after school for activities, visiting friends, etc. The phones were originally for emergency use (we envisioned things like "My bus is broken down", "A snow storm has closed the roads but I'm safe in the school"), but we now use them for much more routine things ("My bus was ten minutes late but I'm OK", "My soccer practice is over, can you come pick me up", "My friend I'm staying with wants to take me to the pool, is that OK?"). It gives the kids more freedom to do stuff on their own while still keeping us informed.
The older kid got one of the non-smart pre-paid phones at first, but by the time the younger one was 11, there were old hand-me-down smart phones in the house that he inherited. Is there potential for abuse? Sure, but not so much in school, since teachers are very, very aware of phone usage and there are strict rules on even turning your phone on in the schools. At home, it's just another screen, and your screen-time rules, whatever they are, apply to that as well.
Smartphones are also, surprisingly, a real help with study and homework. Not only for group assignments, where they chatter back and forth through text messages, but you might be surprised how much group help gets done through phones. Student group chats spontaneously arise for each class, the digital equivalents of study groups that also appear in coffee shops and so on before exams.
There are concerns about theft and loss. Eleven-year-old kids are not always the most responsible and consistent, and phone theft in the classroom is a real issue (it happened to our younger, and we heard that he was not unique). If that's a potential concern, consider a cheap prepaid phone, where the loss is not a disaster.
Overall, we have no problems with either of our kids having phones from age 11 on.
My son got his phone when he was 8 years old. My daughter will get hers when she is 7 y/o.
Both parents in our family are working so we need to get in touch with our kids. If kids have something to worry they need means to contact parents, that's why they will have phones.
My son is rule oriented person so he had only once or twice problem with cell phone playing. He has one hour gaming time each day. Usually he spends it playing PS3 with his friends. His morals are the only things restricting his playing.