Too young for a cellphone?

Published 7:21pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

By Alison McFerrin

The Selma Times-Journal

In days gone by, children spent hours tying up family phone lines with long conversations to classmates and friends. Today, many children are connected 24/7 — and that doesn’t mean connected to a corded landline.

According to a 2010 survey by Pew Research Center Publications, 75 percent of 12-17 year-olds now own cellphones, up from 45 percent in 2004.

“Today, kids are a lot more mobile,” said Dan Dennis, district sales manager at The Cellphone Superstore. “They’ve got all the sporting events, the dance recitals, that type thing. So sometimes it’s a safety issue for the children.”

The ability to stay in contact with parents while at after school activities or a friend’s house is the appeal touted by many. But how young is too young for this symbol of freedom?

Krystal Williams, sales representative for Selma Communications, cited 12 or 13 as the minimum age for a child to have their own cellphone.

“Children cannot be responsible with their phones until they get to at least that age,” Williams said.

While phones can be a tool to provide more safety for children, especially those who spend a lot of time away from their parents, they can also open a new world of dangers. ‘Sexting,’ sending a sexually suggestive or explicit text message, is becoming more common, and with many phones now Web-enabled, children can become exposed to content far beyond their age level.

“They spend a lot more time texting than they do talking … and that’s the only thing that a parent has to be careful of,” Dennis said. “If they open that door to them, then the parent needs to take the kid’s phone, see what kind of text messages they are getting and see what kind of text messages they are sending.”

In addition to being a “POS” (parent over shoulder), moms and dads have other options for keeping a watchful eye on their kids’ cellphone activities.

With a Page Plus pre-paid plan, parents can monetarily limit the number of texts their child sends each month, the time spent on the Web, and the minutes spent in phone calls. Shawanda Fails, manager at CT Wireless, said many parents choose this plan for their children.

“You don’t want to give them too much, and you don’t want to pay too much money,” Fails said.

An AT&T option, Smart Limits, allows parents to put extensive boundaries on how their children can use their cellphones.

“There’s blocks that the parent can put on the phone,” Dennis said. “They can restrict the Internet completely. They can restrict the child making purchases over the phone, they can block text messages … So it’s no different than a computer: you set the security up.”

Another phone geared toward children is the glowPhone from Firefly, which allows parents to control all calls using a parental password.

Though the dangers are evident, cellphones aren’t all bad — far from it. In addition to allowing children to more easily call home, they also assist in an emergency, especially phones with GPS technology.

“If you’re somewhere and you dial 911 and you need help, the police can find you,” Selma Communications sales representative Cindi Danley said.

In addition to the safety and security aspect, health should also be a consideration when parents are thinking about giving their children cellphones.

“There’s no conclusive evidence so far,” Dr. Lotfi Bashir, M.D. and Fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. “But that does not mean it’s safe. Always, caution is really warranted.”

With the World Health Organization’s recent announcement that the radiation emitted from cellphones could possibly increase the risk for cancer, certain precautions are advisable. Bashir said if it turns out cellphone use is significantly hazardous, children will be at greater risk.

“Young children are more prone to have injury than elderly,” Bashir said. “They have longer time of exposure … Sometimes some effect may not show up for 20 or 30 years.”

When it comes to childhood development, Bashir said many parents are considered about the affect on social skills for children who spend so much time texting.

“As far as medically, I’m not aware of anything to that effect,” Bashir said, pointing out that video games are more of a concern than cellphones when it comes to taxing a child’s brain. “As a harmful effect, I cannot think of anything bad about it.”

When it comes down to it, parents must ultimately be the ones to make the decision about whether their child is ready for a cellphone or not.<script src=”” type=”text/javascript”></script><a href=”” style=” color:#6D9F00; text-decoration:none;” onclick=”window.print(); return false;” title=”Printer Friendly and PDF”><img style=”border:none;” src=”” alt=”Print Friendly and PDF”/></a>

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