I remember a time not too long ago where cell phones were huge, clunky car phones that only worked in very specific areas. These huge leaps in technology are now considered archaic, just a few short years later. Now everyone has a cell phone. And the pressure is on to have the smallest, slimmest, and most technologically advanced design. It is inevitable that our children will also feel this pressure and want to be in on the action. The question is, how young is too young? At what age should a child get a cell phone and how do you ascertain if they are ready or not?
Have any of you ever seen a commercial for a cell phone for very young children? They have them for as young as 3 years old. They are large, easy to hold, with big buttons and colorful designs and are programmed to only call certain numbers, grandma, mom, dad, home, etc. Many parents I have talked to think this is a fantastic idea. They feel their young child has access to them if they are at the babysitters or grandma's house and it teaches them their own phone number, etc. I will hereby state that I believe there is no reasonable explanation for a 3 year old to have a cell phone. Or a 4 year old, or 5, or 6. Elementary students are WAY too young for both the responsibility and the need. As adults, we place them in the care of people we trust, their teachers, their dad or grandma. So why would they need to contact us in an emergency situation? There would always be someone there to assist them in their needs. On top of that, you are setting a precedent that can be a slippery slope. If you are giving your 5 year old a phone, what do you think they will want when they are 6 or 7 and a new style comes out? They will not learn how to help pay for a phone or appreciate it, they will expect it, and you will just be in for the ride (that or a lot of whining when you don't).
As a pediatrics website, I thought it was important that I also give you the medical research on cell phones and their effect on the human body. In a recent article by Dr. Oz entitled How to Avoid Cell Phone Dangers, he states:
"Cell phones expose us to a form of electromagnetic radiation called radiofrequency (RF) energy. Scientists have suspected that this radiation might increase the risk of brain cell damage leading to tumors, and in 1995 they found this to be the case in rats. Most studies since then have failed to show a similar correlation in humans, and last December the Danish Cancer Society released results from a 29-year study that found no solid association between increasing cell phone use and brain tumors. Yet just months earlier, an analysis of the most rigorous studies found convincing evidence linking the use of handheld phones to brain tumors, especially in users of a decade or longer."
In regards to children, he states that "Kids have a thinner skull, and their brains are still developing—which may make them more vulnerable to any potential harmful effects of RF radiation."
Because of this, I would highly recommend NOT buying a cell phone for any child in elementary school. I would begin to consider it in my young teenager if they needed it. Here are some things to look for/ask yourself when trying to decide if your child needs a cell phone:
1. Do they walk to/from school?
2. Do they have their license and drive around?
3. Do they take the bus/need rides often from school or work?
4. Do they have a job?
5. Do they often go with friends to the store/etc?
The main thing to look for is if your child is quite independent and often out and about, it may be time to invest in a cell phone. There is always the risk that they will need a ride somewhere and you will feel more at peace knowing they have means to call you if they need you. However, it is wise to impose restrictions and to talk to the cell phone provider about extras. If your child is a young teenager and needs your help to get a cell-phone, there is no reason for them to have all the extras such as text messaging, internet, etc. Text messaging is an addictive pass time for children and not only will you save yourself some money, but you will help ensure your child is focusing on school when they are there not sending electronic notes to their friends...
If you have an older teenager who is working (14-15 and up) I would suggest looking into getting them a full-featured plan however it is important to make sure that they are learning responsibility from it, not simply using mom and dad to get what they want. For that reason, I would ask them to pay for half or all the bill (depending on their income and ability) and/or look into a pay-as-you-go plan that they can take care of on their own.
Cell phones are not an easy topic and when your child is constantly nagging you it can be hard to know what to do. But take some time to sit down and get all the facts, does your child need a cell-phone? What kind of arrangement can you come to to help ensure that they will not abuse it and take care of it? For more information, check out the links below.