The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 28, 2013

When is a child ready for a cell phone?

BY JENNIFER BAILEY
Commercial-News

DANVILLE — As parents scrutinize school supply lists as summer ends and the new school year starts, some parents might wonder whether it’s time for their child to have a cell phone.

A lot of questions then come up.

How does one know when his or her child is ready to have one? How young is too young? Who should pay for it? How should limits be set?

Some people can help with answers, such as pediatricians, psychologists and cell phone business representatives.

Bud’s Express Cellular owner Neal Ehrlich said the trend of younger children having their own cell phones has dropped a little.

“I don’t think it’s dropping down drastically,” Ehrlich said.

He added, “We’re not seeing a rash below the age of 11 getting phones.”

Typically the business sees middle school children, sometimes in sixth, seventh or eighth grade, receiving a cell phone for the first time. In middle school, children become more involved in activities that take them other places. Cell phones help parents keep in touch with their children, he said.

Some stores also carry cell phone cases and other products that appeal to younger children.

Ehrlich added young children are very technologically savvy nowadays and have no problems using cell phones.

“They’re not dumbstruck with any kind of technology. The transition from an iPad to an iPhone is nothing,” he said of today’s children.

Children younger than 5 years old are using iPads and iPhones for games, watching cartoons and other entertainment.

Ehrlich said in his family of four daughters, his oldest received her first cell phone in college. The next youngest was in high school, the third youngest in eighth grade and the youngest in seventh grade.

He said he and his wife cover the cell phone bills.

He also sees other parents say to their children, “You’re paying for this.”

Cellular One of East Central Illinois assistant store coordinator Brandon Lee, at the Village Mall, also said he’s seen younger and younger children receive their first cell phone.

He estimated he’s seen children as young as 9 years old get one.

Lee said his company will work with parents on the type of phone and plan that fits best.

Dr. Richard Elghammer, child psychologist, said cell phones “have both good and bad (aspects).”

Elghammer said when people are asked what age is appropriate for a child/adolescent to have a cell phone, “it’s kind of interesting. You’re going to get a split here.”

He said about 50 percent of parents say 12-13 is a suitable age; 25 percent say 14-16 is a good age and the rest say age 10-12 years old.

Age shouldn’t be the only deciding factor for a cell phone, however, he says.

Elghammer said the real answer lies more in “what is your child’s maturity level? Maturity means responsible kids.”

He adds a cell phone should be used as a privilege, not a right.

“It’s a privilege earned by being responsible at home,” Elghammer said. “It’s not a right.”

Children can be rewarded for mature behavior and doing chores at home.

“I want them to earn it,” Elghammer said.

A good/positive aspect about cell phones is that parents can use cell phones to teach responsibility, he said. Elghammer said a behavior contract between the parents and children also is a good idea.

“It’s written down,” he said.

The contract deals with the minute budget and usage. The tasks depend on the child’s maturity. There should not be unlimited use, Elghammer said.

“Have a curfew on it,” he said.

One of the bad aspects of cell phones is they can cut down on children’s sleep.

Exceptions to usage can be for safety and security.

A lot of children spend time in separate households after divorces. This can provide another good aspect of cell phones: having anytime access with a child, Elghammer said, adding that the GPS on the phones also can keep an eye on the child’s location.

Children with anxiety about spending the night at another friend’s house also can use a cell phone to call a parent.

Safety is a significant aspect of giving a cell phone to a child. If a child has trouble with a friend and needs a ride home, the cell phone can be used.

“I like it for safety,” Elghammer said. Parents also have to talk to children about cell phone dangers, he added.

Bad aspects about cell phones are cyber bulling, which is harassment, he said. The phone should be taken away if a child gets caught doing this, he said.

Children shouldn’t use cell phones to pretend they are someone else, say negative or sexual comments; or text while driving, he said.

Elghammer said there also should be no swearing. There is cell phone etiquette and moral issues involved. “It means respect for others,” he said, adding that you also don’t text people at 2 a.m.

The prepaid plan for a cell phone for limited minutes is a good thing, Elghammer said. He suggests turn off web access and texting at school and at night.

If the cell phone is used past a certain time and additional usage or downloads incur extra expenses, the child should pay for the extra charges, he said.

The cell phone shouldn’t be permanent. It can be removed, he reiterated.

Also as part of the contract between parents and children, Elghammer said parents should tell their children that they will check phone numbers and who the child talks to.

Elghammer said as for paying for the phone, “I want the kid to do chores directly related to the cell phones. It’s earned as a privilege.”

If school grades go down, that’s another reason the phone can be taken away, he suggests.

Everybody should know the rules and sign a contract, he said.

FYI

An online parent-child agreement for cell phone usage was developed by U.S. Cellular. It can be customized and can be found at www.childphoneagreement.com.