You probably wouldn’t think of leaving the house without your cell phone. When you are away from your children, cell phones are the most convenient way to get in touch with them. If you have a teenager who is driving, you want him to have a cell phone for safety reasons. Besides, practically all teenagers have a cell phone. Eighty-four percent of older teens, 60 percent of tweens and 22 percent of small children had cell phones in 2007, according to the Center on Media and Child Health. These numbers grow each year. Still, parents need to consider all the ramifications of kids having a cell phone before they plop down their money for one or add their kids to a cell-phone family plan.
No one can dispute the power of cell phones to aid in emergencies. The Pew Research Center found that in 2006, 74 percent of Americans used their cell phone when there was an emergency. Various emergency agencies recommend that people put “ICE,” which stands for “in case of emergency,” in front of the names in your cell phone directory so that emergency personnel will know the name of the first person you want alerted. Also, parents can get a cell phone with GPS technology to keep track of where their kids are or, at least, where their kids’ phones are.
Addiction and Angst
Teens tend to become obsessed with their cell phones, checking them constantly for new text messages, for example. According to a study presented to the American Psychiatric Association in Toronto in 2006, the kids who are the most crazed with their phones may be unhappy or anxious. The more entrenched cell phones become for kids, the more they want to keep in touch with others. When they don’t get an immediate answer or validation that they are still in the group, kids can become anxious, depressed and suffer low self-esteem.
Cell phones allow kids to engage in sexting, which is sending naked pictures to each other using their cell phones. “Time Magazine” reports that one-in-five teens, as of 2009, sent or posted naked pictures of themselves using their cell phone. One-in-three teens receive such pictures. When interviewed, three-in-four teens say they know that sexting can have negative consequences, but they do it anyway.
Parents should be vigilant when it comes to young kids having their own cell phone. You might want to consider getting a phone specially designed for younger children that have parental controls added, according to the Keep Kids Healthy website. These phones limit who can call the phone and whom your child can call. Kids’ cell phones do not have Internet access. They typically have plans with prepaid minutes to ensure your child doesn’t go over her minutes.
What Parents Can Do
Have a frank discussion with your teen about what is off-limits regarding the cell phone. You pay for the phone, and you can cancel it at any time. Make sure your child abides by your rules, such as always answering when you call or text within 10 minutes, for example. You should probably not let your child take his phone with him when he goes to bed. Kids might be tempted to stay up all night if they have their phone with them.