Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kids and Cell Phones: How Young is Too Young?

How young is too young for a cell phone?

It may seem like a strange question, but I'm really curious. 

Increasingly, I've seen kids as young as six and seven toting mobile phones, chatting away and texting. Often in the presence of their parents, whom I can only assume are the purveyors of these phones.

Does anyone else see a problem with this?

I understand the arguments: safety, tracking, security and otherwise, but I really have to wonder. Is a cell phone really necessary for a child, and if so, what is the appropriate age to provide one, and why?

Way back in the Stone Age when I was a kid, there were no cell phones and I had to contact my parents the old-fashioned way - via a land line. When I was old enough to go out somewhere on my own or with friends, I called them from - gasp! - a pay phone! Now I get that these relics of antiquity are no longer in existence, or if they are, they're few and far between, but they served my purposes just fine. They got the job done.

Image courtesy of
I may appear at this point to be shooting myself in the foot and sabotaging my own argument by saying that there no longer exists a wealth of pay phones on every corner. This, evidently, poses a problem for parents who want their kids to remain in touch. It seems like the cell phone is the obvious and only choice in these instances. Furthermore, many households have abandoned the old-fashioned land lines of yore, choosing instead to stay connected through a few mobile phones for each family member. In these circumstances, there is no choice but to provide a phone to even the youngest child right?


There has to be a cutoff point as to where we draw the line. How young is too young? Frankly, I'm uneasy when I see children of six and seven talking on cell phones. Disregarding the possible health risks, there are clearly other potential problems that could result:
  • Early cell-phone use in children has been suspected as the cause of increased behavioral problems
  • The cell phone becomes yet another distraction, taking away time from schoolwork, family time and more
  • Text-messaging can decrease kids' abilities to communicate effectively (e.g. spelling, grammar)
  • Parents have less control over whom their children have communications with
Image courtesy of
All that being said, I will concede that this is a different world, a different time from when many of us grew up. Times change, technology advances and what was non-existent just decades previously now becomes the norm. Such is the case with mobile technology and cell phones in particular. Nevertheless, I'm still taken aback when I see a kid who's not old enough to participate in many of the attendant privileges of adulthood chatting away on a cell phone. But that's just me.

So I'll put it out there: How young is too young for a cell phone? How do you feel about kids and mobile phones? Would you get one for your child, and if so, at what age?


John Gross said...[Reply]

My kids got cell phones when they started going out on their own, which was when they started middle school (grade 7). The phones were mainly for emergency use, with limited talk time, and they used them responsibly (i.e. rarely).

Rachel Howells said...[Reply]

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid, rambling fanatic, I have two reasons why I am hesitant to give a child, with his/her still developing brain, a cell phone. One reason is a possible link between cell phone usage and cancer and possibly other forms of brain damage, as well as psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD.

I know government and health authorities keep telling us there is no evidence for a link between brain tumors and cellular devices, but I am skeptical. In this technological age we are exposed to radiation all over the place and I can’t help but wonder what the cumulative effect will ultimately be. We hear more and more anecdotal information in the media and on a personal level which makes it seem like there IS a link.

It is also hard not to keep in mind that at one time "they" also downplayed “paranoid” concerns about BPA in plastic containers, trans fat, cigarette smoke, asbestos, thalidomide prescribed to pregnant women, psychiatric drugs like Prozac and Paxil, and the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on the environment - just to name a few.

If I really felt my child just HAD to have a cell phone I’d teach him to use it only for emergencies and away from the ear, using the speaker phone feature I guess, and to keep the calls brief. I mean, it’s probably okay in the end, but I don’t like to take even the slightest chance when it comes to my kids’ developing brains.

My other issue with cell phones for kids is that it keeps them constantly tethered to you in a way that some research suggests stunts their growing sense of autonomy, which theoretically has all sorts of potentially negative consequences.

Now, if this was not simply a “comment” but an article, I’d cite sources for my opinions, but anyone can google this stuff and I think I’ve rambled on long enough. I apologize if I’ve gone overboard and understand if you want to delete me!

However, I hope you instead take this as a compliment that your writing could inspire such a tirade!

As always, another thought-provoking read!


Rachel :-)

championm2000 said...[Reply]

I don't think my kids will get cell phones until they are old enough to work a job and pay for them.


I also don't think they should date until they are 16 (I couldn't).


They should be able to share a car.

My husband disagrees with me on both accounts. Parenting twin teens should be fun. Good think we have a few years to discuss :-)

Samantha said...[Reply]

@John GrossHi John, Middle school isn't as young as I've seen or heard about; I think grade 7 and 8's are 12 and 13. That said, you're fortunate that your kids were responsible as many children of the same age are not as diligent in keeping the calls and texting to a minimum - which is part of the problem.
Thanks for your comment.

Samantha said...[Reply]

@Rachel Howells
Hi Rachel,

Thanks for your detailed and insightful comment.

You've hit upon a few key points in your response that are definitely worth investigating in more detail.

Regarding the health risks of cell phone use, I agree that the inconclusive nature of the findings as well as the consistent call for restraints in our use of mobile phones leads me to believe that where there's smoke, there's likely fire. Now, to what degree there might be a risk to our health is not clear, but there is likely some danger. For this reason, I rarely use my cell phone right against my ear and almost always use the headphones or speakerphone to chat.

Re: the tethering of kids to their parents via cell phone - this is an interesting point in this day and age of "hover parents." Is this just one more way of mothers and fathers exerting control and delaying adulthood in their children? In many instances, our kids are already in a state of delayed maturity as supported by the philosophy of "Emerging Adulthood." Apparently 30 is the new 20.

Interesting points that you've brought up; this topic definitely requires further investigation.

Samantha said...[Reply]

Hi Melissa,

Yes - parenting twin teens should bring on some "interesting" challenges, that's for sure. I think by the time our kids are at that age, there will be other technologies and "bigger fish to fry" and perhaps cell phones will be the least of our worries!

Thanks for commenting.

Laura said...[Reply]

I got my first phone when I was 13 and I was actually the first in my school! The problem with children and phones today is the how smartphones make so much information readily available. Yes they can check porn in their phones and you may not know who they are talking to.

That's why my kid will initially get a clunky phone with limited calling (only parents, grandparents and siblings) and no text message. Besides giving a $400 phone to a child is incredibly stupid. No need for that unless they can pay for it and show they will be responsible.

Thank_Q said...[Reply]

I'd say once they're old enough to drive would be my starting point. It does depend on maturity and activities, but that's my starting point. Also, once they get one, it will absolutely be just a phone. No smartphone. There's no way I'd get my kid a smartphone. It's just not smart to me.

Samantha said...[Reply]

Laura, I agree on both counts - providing a young person with an expensive mobile phone/smart phone is a recipe for disaster in more ways than one. As well, teaching them the value of things can't be done when it's handed to them on a silver platter. Paying for things like this make younger folks think twice about whether or not it's really required.

Thanks for commenting!

Samantha said...[Reply]

@Thank_Q Being old enough to drive at least assures that there is some level of responsibility that they can handle. The sad thing is that kids that are barely out of elementary school are regularly sporting the latest iPhone or Blackberry. And these items open up a whole other world that perhaps they shouldn't be part of just yet.

Thanks for your comment.

Jacki said...[Reply]

As much as I hate to admit it, my son was given a cell phone when he was eight. However, it was a basic tracfone and he still only uses it when we go out to large public places where he could easily be separated from me, or when we travel. I am a single mom and don't always have the luxury of having a second pair of eyes watching him, let alone a male around to do the things like taking him into the bathroom. Knowing he is has his phone and he can reach me if we get separated has put us both at ease. As far as when he will get a phone to use at all times, he will likely be 14 before he can carry it around all the time. The kid loses a coat every two days, I can't trust him with a cell phone yet.

Samantha said...[Reply]

@JackiThanks for commenting Jacki. We all do what we have to do. In your case, you clearly felt that your son could handle the phone, and it was purely for safety reasons. My issues stem from the constant texting and talking about inanities on a cell phone that I see kids of very young ages doing. That being said, I think that the trend is towards kids getting mobile phones so I guess we will all have to get used to this reality.

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