But do cell phones really keep our kids safe?
- Shana Aborn, BettyConfidential.com"Mom?" my son piped up from the back seat. I recognized the familiar I'm-about-to-ask-for-something
tone. "When can I have a cell phone?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," I said truthfully as I stopped at the traffic light. "But I think we'll consider it when you start middle school."
"Middle school?" he wailed. "That's not fair! Other kids my age have cell phones."
"My age," by the way, is barely 7 (that's first grade, for those of you keeping score). It seems cell phones are the new must-have among the elementary-school set, and I was suddenly facing the latest challenge in the ongoing parental saga of When Should I Let My Kid Do This?
On the plus side, a phone can keep a parent connected with a young child when she's in school, on a playdate or with another caretaker while you're at work. In these jittery times, that can be a real comfort, even if you never have to face an emergency greater than a forgotten lunchbox. And children may feel better knowing that Mom's just a call or text away.
My friend Heather stood her ground for a long time when her daughter first begged for a cell. "I thought kids who had them had parents who were nuts," she says. "They're expensive, easy to lose, she didn't need one, and we weren't going to cave." Then came 5th grade and, well…Mom caved. By then, her daughter was old enough to walk the few blocks to and from school alone, and a phone seemed a good way to ensure peace of mind for everyone.
That I can understand. Cell phones for kids aged 10 and up aren't a bad idea: They have loads of parent-approved features, since we all know how fiendishly clever children can be about abusing electronic privileges. The phones come with four or five preprogrammed numbers and options for prepaid minutes, which help eliminate any worries that your child might be contacted by strangers or spend hours downloading Jonas Brothers ringtones. Some providers will even automatically cut off the phone after bedtime or whenever you don't want it being used. You can even set physical boundaries on the phone and get a text alert if it moves out of the approved zone. In other words, if your child drops by a friend's house instead of coming straight home from school, you'll know about it.
But what about younger kids? You could argue that they should be introduced to cell phones early on, to give them a head start on the technology and teach them how to use it wisely. I'm not sure I buy that, though. Kids younger than 10 already spend huge chunks of time with TV, computers and handheld games, all of which help them tune out from the world even as they expand their knowledge of it. Do we really want them carrying around one more device that distracts them from soaring on a swing, sitting down with a book or just looking at a sunset once in a while?And while researchers don't yet know for sure what effect cell phone radiation has on the body, you do have to wonder just how safe it is to expose a young developing brain to electromagnetic waves at such close range. Dr. Devra Davis, a noted epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh specializing in the environmental causes of cancer, recently told The Huffington Post that several European nations are thinking of banning the marketing of cell phones to small children. The potential for harm is too great at this age, she warns.
Most of the moms I know feel that the cons outweigh the pros for their pre-preteens. Camille puts it bluntly: "My 6-year-old is always supervised, so until I'm dropping her off at the mall, she WILL NOT have a cell phone." And Anahid points out, "Kids will learn how to use a cell fast enough when they're old enough and the time is right. As for the safety issue, there are other products on the market that can help track children if necessary. "
Frankly, I'm with them. I'm holding out a little longer before letting my kids enter the wireless world. I work from home at the moment, so they're rarely out of my sight. They see their friends often enough at the park and on playdates ; they won't be deprived if they can't call their buddies at night. Besides, my son is chattier in person than on the phone - he'll talk to his grandparents for a minute or two before turning the receiver back to me - and a kid who groans over writing three sentences of homework probably isn't going to have the patience to tap out texts to everyone he knows.
So, knowing full well that I was putting myself in the running for Worst Mommy Ever, I told my son that a cell phone would have to wait.
"Think about it for a second," I said. "What would you use a phone for?"
He rolled his eyes. "To talk to my friends."
"Do any of them have cell phones?"
There was a moment of silence as the logic set in.
"Well, Mom, you know what I really want is a Nintendo DS with the Superhero Squad game…"
Formerly the deputy editor of MAMM magazine, Shana Aborn was also a senior editor at Ladies' Home Journal. She is the author of 30 Days to a More Spiritual Life (Doubleday), contributor to the anthology The Imperfect Mom (Doubleday), and has been published in Parents, Woman's Day, Family Circle, and Working Mother. She is the mother of two wireless, phoneless children.
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