Cell Phones for Kids - How Young is Too Young?

By: Barry Nagassar

Take a random tween, age 8-12, place them in front of a rotaryphone and observe at the blank stare of bewilderment. Yes, goneare the days of the landline, pushed aside by the next wave oftechnological advancement. Mobile phones are fast displacinglandlines in many homes; accompanying this movement is the factkids regularly use and know how to use these cell phones. Themobility of cell phones means you can be anywhere and have thenecessity, or should I say the convenience, of a phone.

Cellular service providers and manufacturers would enjoy nothingmore than exploiting the vastly untapped tween market. However,is it necessary to provide cell phones to kids age 8-12? Whatmakes it necessary today? Is the simple the notion of having thetechnology enough reason to equip younger and younger customerswith phones? Where do we draw the line when it comes to tweensowning cell phones, and when should we be restrictinguse? The remainder of this article will discuss the pros andcons of purchasing cell phones for kids. It will discuss thesocial aspects, health concerns, and cost issues.

Social and Cost Issues:

Weighing in at a paltry 56 grams, designed with a smaller frameto accommodate smaller hands, measuring 88 x 44 x 20 mm, one ofthe leading cell phones targeted exclusively towards the 8-12market, the Firefly. It offers up to 2.5 hours of talk time, andup to 100 hours of standby, basically it's your bare bones cellphone that permits parent's to limit outgoing calls to certainnumbers and also sports 'mom' and 'dad' buttons for quickdialling. The Firefly is marketed with such catch phrases as"Parents of pre-teens understand that it's time to startloosening the reins and letting their kids travel unsupervisedto school, the library, or friends' houses."

Pro: Yes kids need a safety mechanism and having a cell phonehandy does provide added protection in the form of determiningwhereabouts and phoning for help.

Con: Big safe mechanism, however, if any parent purchases a cellphone for their kid using the catchy marketing ploy directed toparents, '...start loosening the reins and let their kids travelunsupervised,' they have the wrong perception regarding thepurpose of a phone. Anybody who believes that providing a cellphone to a child automatically provides them with responsibilityand ability to take care of themselves, when they were unable todo so before a cell phone, are relying too heavily on'parenting by technology'. Be mindful of such reasoning whenthinking about buying a cell phone.

Con: Another item to consider, are we turning our kids intointernet and mobile phone junkies? One should question whetherconnecting kids 24/7 to their friends via cell phone willinfluence their social habits. Also, cell phones are quicklybecoming the norm and the fashion. Kids will demand to be hiplike their buddies from school who sport the latest cell phone,or any cell phone for that matter. Parents will be pressed togive in to ignescent demands of 'everyone else has one', or 'Iwant to be cool like the other kids'. Sure it may be good tohave your kid fit in, but since when is school primarily apopularity contest? Furthermore, when does fitting in cost somuch?! The thing with cell phones is there are monthly costsattached -- not a one time sunk cost. Chances are you will paythe monthly fees. Some options are available to have'pay-as-you-go' options, you pay for whatever minutes youpurchase, however, either or, the more your kid talks on thephone, the more you pay. Don't forget too that cell phones aremore than phones. Almost all (the Firefly does not) have textmessaging and more complicated communication tools included thathave an attached cost as well. Boy, this is starting to getexpensive!

Health Issues:

The Firefly cell phone is designed to give the bare phoneessentials. However, this phone is a candybar style, which meansthe antenna is located within the phone unit and does notprotrude out. This means cellular frequencies are closer to thebrain. The question now revolves around how early is too earlyfor exposing kids to cellular frequencies on a regular basis? Onone hand you don't want to risk your child's health, on theother hand scientific research is still inconclusive when itcomes to cell phone 'radiation'. The juror is still out on thisone, be your own judge regarding the health impacts.

There you have it, some helpful reminders to consider beforegoing out and dropping a couple hundred dollars and anadditional twenty per month, minimum, on a cell phone forjunior. One certainly cannot downplay the safety benefits, younever know when it could save a life, however, at the same time,there are many con items to consider before sending buying a acell phone for junior. One thing is for sure, the little handsetdevice will never replace supervision from an adult whensupervision is due.

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