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About 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States own a mobile phone, up from 45 percent in 2004, according to an April study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, part of the Pew Research Center. And children are getting their phones at earlier ages, industry experts say. The Pew study, for example, found that 58 percent of 12-year-olds now had a cellphone, up from 18 percent in 2004.
Parents generally say they buy their child a phone for safety reasons, because they want to be able to reach the child anytime. Cost also matters to parents, cellphone industry experts say; phones and family plans from carriers are both becoming more affordable. Also, as adults swap out their old devices for newer smartphones, it is easier to pass down a used phone.