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Cell Phones for Kids - When is Too Young?

Cell Phones for Kids - When is Too Young?
Mobile phones are fast displacing landlines in many homes accompanying this movement is the fact kids regularly use and know how to use these cell phones. The mobility of cell phones means you can be anywhere and have the necessity, or should I say the convenience, of a phone.

Cellular service providers and manufacturers would enjoy nothing more than exploiting the vastly untapped tween market. However, is it necessary to provide cell phones to kids age 8-12? What makes it necessary today? Is the simple the notion of having the technology enough reason to equip younger and younger customers with phones? Where do we draw the line when it comes to tweens owning cell phones, and when should we be restricting use? The remainder of this article will discuss the pros and cons of purchasing cell phones for kids. It will discuss the social aspects, health concerns, and cost issues.

Social and Cost Issues:

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

Pro: Yes kids need a safety mechanism and having a cell phone handy does provide added protection in the form of determining whereabouts and phoning for help.

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

Con: Another item to consider, are we turning our kids into internet and mobile phone junkies? One should question whether connecting kids 24/7 to their friends via cell phone will influence their social habits. Also, cell phones are quickly becoming the norm and the fashion. Kids will demand to be hip like their buddies from school who sport the latest cell phone, or any cell phone for that matter. Parents will be pressed to give in to ignescent demands of 'everyone else has one', or 'I want to be cool like the other kids'. Sure it may be good to have your kid fit in, but since when is school primarily a popularity contest? Furthermore, when does fitting in cost so much?! The thing with cell phones is there are monthly costs attached -- not a one time sunk cost. Chances are you will pay the monthly fees. Some options are available to have 'pay-as-you-go' options, you pay for whatever minutes you purchase, however, either or, the more your kid talks on the phone, the more you pay. Don't forget too that cell phones are more than phones. Almost all (the Firefly does not) have text messaging and more complicated communication tools included that have an attached cost as well. Boy, this is starting to get expensive!

Health Issues:

The Firefly cell phone is designed to give the bare phone essentials. However, this phone is a candybar style, which means the antenna is located within the phone unit and does not protrude out. This means cellular frequencies are closer to the brain. The question now revolves around how early is too early for exposing kids to cellular frequencies on a regular basis? On one hand you don't want to risk your child's health, on the other hand scientific research is still inconclusive when it comes to cell phone 'radiation'. The juror is still out on this one, be your own judge regarding the health impacts.

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

With ringtones, games, and cool looking phones, your kids have probably already asked you for a cell phone.

Do your kids really 'need' a cell phone though?

If you ask them, the answer is going to be a definitive 'yes,' of course. But their reasoning can be a little shaky, including that:

  • cell phones are cool

  • all of her friends already have cell phones

  • it will allow her to call when she is going to be late

  • she can use it in an emergency
Of course, buying something just because it is cool, unless you are doing it as a special treat or reward, is never a really good reason. And if all of your child's friends have cell phones, then she really doesn't need one, does she? After all, if she is going to be late, she can just use one of their cell phones to call you. And does a phone call really excuse a teen from being late?

The last reason is a good one though. Having a cell phone to use in an emergency is probably the only good reason to get one. Especially once your teen is driving, a cell phone can be essential in case her car breaks down, etc.

Younger children can also benefit from having a cell phone from a safety perspective if they spend a lot of time in after school activities, go to child care after school, or spend time with another parent on the weekends. In addition to being used in an emergency, a cell phone can be practical and an extra convenience, for example if you need to pick your child up early or if baseball practice is running late.

Teens and Cell Phones

As already mentioned, if your teen is driving, they should probably have a cell phone for safety reasons. Before that, you might consider a cell phone if it seems practical and your child is responsible enough to take care of the phone. Also consider that like driving, a cell phone can be a good 'privilege' that your child has to earn.

Your teen is probably going to want a regular cell phone, but do consider setting some limits, like on the number of minutes that can be used, sending text messages, downloading ringtones, and even web access, or you might find that your bill is a lot larger than you think at the end of the month. You might even have your child 'turn in the phone' once they get home so that they don't stay up late talking to friends when they should be studying or sleeping.

First Cell Phone

The question of whether younger kids need cell phones is even more controversial.

If you do get your younger child a first cell phone, you might consider one that is specifically designed for younger children and which have a lot of parental controls and limits in place.

Specifically, many of these phones:

  • limit who can call the phone

  • limit who can be called with the phone

  • don't have internet access, instant messaging, or chat capabilities

  • may have GPS tracking so that you literally know where your child is at all times

  • have plans with prepaid minutes so your kids can't go over
These types of cell phones for kids include the Firefly Phone, Wherifone GPS Locator Phone (not available yet though), and the TicTalk Mobile Phone (which also doesn't seem to be available yet).

The TicTalk Mobile Phone has the added benefit of being able to be configured on the Internet and being able to set at what times the phone can be used. So you can turn it off after your child's bedtime or make sure the phone can't ring while your child is in school!

Do Your Kids Need A Cell Phone?

In most cases, whether or not to get your child a cell phone, especially if they are a teenager, is going to be like any other parenting decision. Things to consider include:
  • does your child really 'need' a cell phone?

  • can you afford a cell phone?

  • is your child responsible enough to take care of a cell phone?
You can also consider the following pros and cons and add your own before making a decision. For a younger child, I would wait until the GPS phones were available. That feature alone, especially if they work better than the current GPS watches would make it a worth while purchase for many parents.

PROSCONS
• Security • Hidden Charges
• Convenience  • Increased Independence (Who is your child talking to?)
• Can Still Set Limits • Internet Access Dangers
• Can Be A Tool To Teach Your Child Responsibility• Responsibility Required So They Don't Lose Phone and Keep It Charged, Etc.
• May Not Be Too Expensive If You Set Limits and Add Your Kids On To An Existing Plan-



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