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Monday, September 27, 2010

When Can (and Do) Our Kids Get Cell Phones?

I have two boys, ages five and eight. Neither own a cell phone -- yet -- but I occasionally wonder how far off that day might be. While wondering, I came across some study results released in the first part of this year. This totally blew my mind.

I may be a little out of touch or whatever, but...WHAT?! Twenty percent of U.S. kids between the ages of six and eleven own cell phones? One in five? Can this be right? Are these numbers fabricated by Nokia and LG?

No, the numbers seem to be legit, stemming from research done by Mediamark Research & Intelligence. Moreover, this 20% average is potentially misleading. Here's a further breakdown by smaller age groups:

So according to national averages and these incredible adoption rates, my eldest looks to be in line for his first phone two birthdays from now.

I have to wonder if this is a good thing. I don't mean that in a "By gum, back in my day we used smoke signals to call home!" sort of way. I mean really. Is it beneficial to both the child and family for kids to have phones at this age? After all, I'm the one who nearly a decade ago got into it with my wife as to whether GPS implants for children was a good idea, with me advocating for the implants. Perhaps knowing exactly how kids are using these phones might shed some light...

All told, that's not a bad list, although it clearly ignores what kids who own smartphones with unlimited data plans are doing. If I could get a phone with Google Latitude enabled but none of the other data features-- Oh, who am I fooling? I want my children to be brilliant and succeed, and if that doesn't already mean putting the Internet in their pockets it will very shortly. To counterbalance MySpace, there's Khan Academy. For every bikini model, there's an edifying Wikipedia (or Wapedia) article. My job as a parent will remain unchanged: teaching my children how to approach what they find in the world with open, cautious, and discerning minds. I'll just have to teach some lessons a little earlier than anticipated.

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