My 7-Year-Old Wants a Cell Phone
But do cell phones really keep our kids safe?
“Mom?” my son piped up from the back seat. I recognized the familiar I’m-about-to-ask-for-something tone. “When can I have a cell phone?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it,” I said truthfully as I stopped at the traffic light. “But I think we’ll consider it when you start middle school.”
“Middle school?” he wailed. “That’s not fair! Other kids my age have cell phones.”
“My age,” by the way, is barely 7 (that’s first grade, for those of you keeping score). It seems cell phones are the new must-have among the elementary-school set, and I was suddenly facing the latest challenge in the ongoing parental saga of When Should I Let My Kid Do This?
On the plus side, a phone can keep a parent connected with a young child when she’s in school, on a playdate or with another caretaker while you’re at work. In these jittery times, that can be a real comfort, even if you never have to face an emergency greater than a forgotten lunchbox. And children may feel better knowing that Mom’s just a call or text away.
My friend Heather stood her ground for a long time when her daughter first begged for a cell. “I thought kids who had them had parents who were nuts,” she says. “They’re expensive, easy to lose, she didn’t need one, and we weren’t going to cave.” Then came 5th grade and, well…Mom caved. By then, her daughter was old enough to walk the few blocks to and from school alone, and a phone seemed a good way to ensure peace of mind for everyone.
That I can understand. Cell phones for kids aged 10 and up aren’t a bad idea: They have loads of parent-approved features, since we all know how fiendishly clever children can be about abusing electronic privileges. The phones come with four or five preprogrammed numbers and options for prepaid minutes, which help eliminate any worries that your child might be contacted by strangers or spend hours downloading Jonas Brothers ringtones. Some providers will even automatically cut off the phone after bedtime or whenever you don’t want it being used. You can even set physical boundaries on the phone and get a text alert if it moves out of the approved zone. In other words, if your child drops by a friend’s house instead of coming straight home from school, you’ll know about it.
But what about younger kids? You could argue that they should be introduced to cell phones early on, to give them a head start on the technology and teach them how to use it wisely. I’m not sure I buy that, though. Kids younger than 10 already spend huge chunks of time with TV, computers and handheld games, all of which help them tune out from the world even as they expand their knowledge of it. Do we really want them carrying around one more device that distracts them from soaring on a swing, sitting down with a book or just looking at a sunset once in a while?