Cell phones are popular with kids, especially tweens and teens.
In our family, there are two very differing opinions on this issue. Our eight year old wants a cell phone already, which isn't too bad, because it distracts him from the fact that he also wants a dog, but I don't think he needs one yet.
At what age are kids ready for their own cell phone?
At what age do they 'need' one?
Many schools, including those in New York City, are banning cell phones, so your child may not be able to have or use the phone during the time when he is most likely to be away from home.
The Firefly Phone, which is a popular 'first phone' for younger kids, is now available with pay as you go and monthly plans. Although the Firefly Phone is a 'real, functional cell phone,' pre-teens and teens likely won't think so, and they will probably want a regular cell phone.
Other new phones for younger kids that allow a lot of parent control include Enfora's TicTalk, which includes educational games from LeapFrog, and Wherify Wireless Wherifone GPS Locator phone.
And of course Apple's iPhone is the latest must have phone for kids.
Unlike other parenting problems, most of us can't really think back to our own childhood to see how our parents handled this issue. After all, cell phones weren't around when most of us were kids.
For many parents, a cell phone just seems like something else that their kids will nag them about getting, such as an iPod, Xbox, Wii, or new laptop.
Teens and tweens likely see the cell phone issue differently, imagining that getting a cell phone is a step towards independence and a status symbol among their friends.
Staying In Touch
One very good reason to get your kids a cell phone is that it lets you stay in touch with them at almost all times. In addition to being practical, like when a gymnastics lesson or baseball practice lets out early, having a cell phone can help you easily get in touch with your kids in case of an emergency. This extra sense of security and safety that a cell phone providers is probably the key reason that parents should even consider getting their younger children a cell phone.
And in the case of a real tragedy, like a school shooting or terrorist attack, a cell phone can be your only lifeline to your kids.
A cell phone can also be an important way to keep in touch with your older teen, especially if they are driving. And if you get a phone with GPS, a cell phone can help you figure out where your teen is at all times.
Other Arguments For a Cell Phone for Kids
Security, safety, and convenience are really the main reasons to consider getting your child a cell phone, but other weaker arguments might include that a cell phone can:
- help your kids keep up with friends who have cell phones, although giving in to peer pressure isn't really a positive thing
- teach your kids to be responsible as they learn to care for their phone, avoid losing it, and stay within their cell phone plan's voice, data, and texting minutes
Although the added safety a cell phone offers is nice, consider that most of the younger kids that cell phone companies are targeting, especially tweens between the ages of 8 and 11 or 12, shouldn't really be alone anyway. In most situations, your child will be able to use a regular phone or the cell phone of whichever adult is supervising them.
Other good reasons to delay getting a cell phone until your kids are a little older, leaving out a discussion of possible and controversial health hazards from radiation, can include:
Cell phones can be expensive. Once you get away from a basic plan, you can be hit with extra charges for going over your minutes, sending text messages, buying ringtones, and using the internet. Even with fees for text messages as low as 10 cents each, that can quickly add up if you have an average kid that sends 10 to 20 text messages a day. And that doesn't include the cost of a replacement phone if your kids lose their phone.
Other charges can include:
- up to 45 cents a minute for additional minutes over your rate plan
- about $.99 to $2.50 for a ringtone
- downloadable games for about $.99 to $3.99 each
- 1 cent per kilobyte for using the internet on your phone
Although the increased independence that a cell phone might offer a child can be good, it can also be a negative thing. Consider that with a cell phone, your child will simply have another way to communicate with the outside world that you will have little supervision over.
A cell phone also gives the outside world another way to communicate with your child. A sex offender, as they do in chat rooms, could hide behind the anonymity of text messaging and 'talk' to your child.
And keep in mind that most of today's cell phones offer almost complete internet access, with web browsing, email, chat, and instant messaging, that is much harder to filter and control as compared to your home computer.
Cell phones may even be a distraction to kids. We all know that they are a distraction for drivers, but one study has also shown that cell phones can be a big distraction for kids crossing the street and could lead to more accidents and injuries.
Cell phones also put your child at risk for getting in trouble for:
- sexting - sending or receiving nude pictures or classmates
- prank calls - which can get your child in trouble if someone starts pranking other people from your child's phone
Where It Stands
Depending on who you ask, cell phone for kids might be considered:
- a necessity
- a luxury
- a fad
- an invasion
Whether or not your child is ready for or needs a cell phone is something a parent will have to decide for themselves. Do make sure that your child can handle the responsibility for a cell phone though, before you buy one.
Other things to consider when getting your younger child a cell phone, include:
- a pre-paid plan with a limited number of minutes so that you won't be faced with a lot of extra charges
- the ability to put strict limits on what the phone can do, including being able to turn off web access and text messaging. Some phone also let you limit who can call the phone and who your child can call using the cell phone.
- only giving the phone to your child when he really needs it, like during a trip to the mall or other time when he might not be near a regular phone
- get one with a GPS tracker so that you can easily find your child when you need to (this is probably the only reason that I would even consider getting a cell phone for my kids right now)
- have a discussion of some of the more serious cell phone issues, such as the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone, cyberbullying, cell phone etiquette, and following rules for cell phone use at school
Currently, the ideal phone for younger kids that includes many of these guidelines is from Firefly Wireless. It includes prepaid minutes, a PIN encoded phone book, and call screening, so that you can restrict calls to and from the phone. And it doesn't include internet access. The only downsides are that it doesn't include GPS, its coverage area is somewhat limited, and at 25 cents per minute for domestic calls, it is a little more expensive than a plan that you might get from a bigger carrier, such as AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint.
Effect of Cell Phone Distraction on Pediatric Pedestrian Injury Risk. Despina Stavrinos, Katherine W. Byington, and David C. Schwebel Pediatrics 2009; 123: e179-e185.
By Vincent Iannelli, M.D., About.com Guide