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When do you get a cell phone for your kid?

From the Department Of Things We’ll Be Dealing With Sooner Than We Think, Whether We’re Ready For Them Or Not, the “when should we get our kids a cellphone?” question.

S. Craig Watkins, author of The Young and the Digital (Beacon Press, $26.95), says deciding to get a child a mobile phone is family specific. However he has noticed that in the past five years the question has evolved from “Should I get my child a cell phone?” to “When should I get my child a cell phone?”

In 2009, 20 percent of children ages 6-11 owned cell phones, up from 11.9 percent in 2005, according to an American Kids Study by Mediamark Research & Intelligence. The MRI breakdown of cell phone ownership by ages shows: ages 6-7, 6.5 percent in 2009, an increase from 4.9 percent in 2005; ages 8-9, 17.7 percent in 2009, 10.6 percent in 2005; and ages 10-11, 36.1 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2005.

Within a relatively short period, our norms for kids and technology, and kids and cell phones in particular, have shifted, said Watkins, a University of Texas at Austin professor of radio, television and film.

“Kids are requesting cell phones at a younger age, so it really challenges parents, teachers and others to grapple with a whole series of situations as a result,” said Watkins.

Olivia has not brought the subject up herself, which I strongly suspect means that none of her friends have cellphones yet. I figure we have a year, maybe two, before that changes. I suppose for me the main point will be whether or not we think Olivia will be able to keep track of it – like her daddy, she can be absent-minded at times, and at least last year would often forget to bring things home from school. That hasn’t been an issue so far this year, however, so perhaps it’s not so much of a concern any more. We’ll see how much longer it is before she asks. What’s your household’s policy on the matter?

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  1. Ron in Houston says:

    Well, there are lots of reasons for and against getting a cell phone for your kid. One feature I like in my 12 year old daughter’s phone is the GPS location feature. So long as she has that phone on her, you can get a good fix on where she is.

    The other good/bad feature is the 3g internet. On one hand she has all the reference resource of the internet in her hand. She has a dictionary, an encyclopedia, and just about any other valuable resource out there on the internet. The bad side is that she also has all the time wasting and distracting parts of the internet as well.

    Overall, she’s a high functioning, responsible kid which is why I got her a phone.

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  3. trowaman says:

    Firefly phones, man. Best option for any kid before they get to jr. high, IMO. Serves 1 purpose, keeps a direct line to mom and dad and other emergency contacts. The end.

  4. David says:

    We got M. a phone this year — starting Middle School. In the end we were driven by the fact that we are leaving him places more and more often (Scouts, Water Polo, etc.) and we want him to be able to reach us if the event schedule changes. We are using AT&Ts shut-down service so that he can’t use it during school hours or late at night.

  5. mary t. says:

    Middle school – on the bus by 7:00 a.m. and dropped off anytime between 5:20 & 5:45 p.m. Pay as you go phone – with no GPS, but also no camera for photos or video, the ability to choose number of minutes & amount of texting & choice of whether or not to include internet capability.