A few days ago I bought a new cellphone for my nine year-old son Aaron, Nokia's cheapest current model, a Nokia 1100. This unit was meant to replace his year-old Nokia 3315 that met an untimely end in a washing machine (not his fault though) after it was left in the pocket of a pair of pants which was subsequently laundered without being checked.
The phone provides a means of communication between him and his parents and other relatives, teachers, friends, etc. He only started using a cellphone of his own a year ago, at the age of eight. It was at that age that I figured that he would already have the necessary skills to comfortably use a cellphone and be responsible enough to take care of one. The cost of new units have also gone down significantly to the point that you can buy a full-featured brand new unit for not that much money.
Of course, there is always the debate on whether or not kids should be given cellphones at all. I guess now you know where I stand. Some conditions notwithstanding, for me the answer is yes.
This issue was something that I've thought of for quite some time now, even before I actually went out and bought my son a cellphone. But that doesn't mean that I think that all kids should have cellphones. Obviously, the kid has to be old enough to actually know how to use one properly, and he or she has to realize that carrying such a device entails a certain level of responsibility on his or her part. The kid should know that a cellphone can be fragile, so it should not be dropped or knocked around much. Also, despite being relatively cheap these days, they should also remember that a cellphone has some value and that it can potentially be the subject of theft.
As long as the kid is old enough to realize this, I guess he or she is old enough to have one. It is quite convenient at times, your kid can easily reach you at any time, and vice versa. It's probably preferable that your child has a cellphone to use in case of emergencies. It also teaches the kid the fundamentals of economizing, since prepaid credits can easily be exhausted if he or she uses the cellphone without any restraint. It also exposes the child early on to communication technologies, making it easier for him or her to adjust to new technological developments. If you think that the past decade or so have been chock-full of advances, just imagine about what our children will see. What we've seen is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
However, there are certain issues that you best be aware of in case you believe your children are ready to have phones of their own. Though research hasn't been conclusive, there is speculation that electromagnetic radiation emanating from cellphones can potentially cause brain tumors or cancer. There hasn't been any research clearly establishing the link between such medical conditions and cellphone use, assuming there is one, but it always pays to be careful.
The time children spend actually making phone calls using cellphones should be kept at a minimum, and they should be taught to make the most of text messaging. Not only does it significantly reduce the medical risk, assuming there is any, but it is also cheaper.
There is also the possibility that some unscrupulous quarters may attempt to take advantage of the naiveté of children having cellphones. It is up to us, as parents, to teach kids that not all calls or messages are worth answering, especially those coming from complete strangers. Some cellular service providers are also guilty of flooding our phones with messages regarding various promos. Kids should also be taught to refrain from replying to these types of messages without consulting an adult first.
Eventually, it is up to you, as parents, to ultimately decide if giving a cellphone to your children is a wise course of action. Decisions should probably be made on a case-to-case basis, because not every situation is the same. Some situations may warrant giving a child a means of communication he or she can use himself or herself. In some cases, it may not be advisable.
In my case, my son's cellphone is worth the investment. Actually the cost of a cellphone and prepaid credits is a small price to pay for some security, peace of mind, and the capability to communicate with your children at any time. And its nice to know that you're always within reach in case your child needs you.
(Originally posted November 7, 2005 on Quaere Verum.)