When was the last time you were out in public and didn’t see someone with a cell phone – either chatting away or texting until their fingers were a blur? This cell phone dependency and desire is not limited to adults. According to recent research, a remarkable 84% of teens aged 15-18 own cells phones. Their younger siblings have apparently jumped onto the bandwagon as well, with 60% of tweens ages 10-14 and 22% of kids 6-9-years-old having the gadgets.
So – just because everyone else seems to have given their kids cell phones, does that mean I have to? Just to clarify, my 15 year-old has her own phone, and the kids have shared another cell phone for a few years, each one being able to take it when they go somewhere without me or their dad. However, I am extremely far from purchasing phones for my 8 & 10 year olds so they can text with their friends and have instant access to the world from their tree fort. Now I am on the fence with my 12-year-old. Does he need a cell phone or simply want one like I wanted a pink Walkman I could take on the bus to volleyball practice in 8th grade? Perhaps our kids need cell phones simply because as parents we need them to have them.
This is my number one reason for getting cell phones for my kids, and for considering purchasing another one. I am not alone in this perception, nor is it an unreasonable reason. Research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 74% of cell phone owners report having used their cell phones in emergencies. Way back in the day my parents used to make sure that I carried a quarter with me so that I could call them for a ride, to let them know where I was, or in case of emergency, using any of the hundreds of pay phones that once dotted the landscapes where teenagers would hang out.
For all of those worries I have as a parent, a cell phone does provide peace of mind, even if my kids are never actually in a dangerous situation. I text my daughter to make sure she is OK when out with friends, a subtle and unobtrusive way to stick my nose in and make sure she is safe. It also lets her stay connected with me more easily. If she is worried when I am a few minutes late or if her activity ends early, she can call or text and get a response in seconds, putting both of our minds at ease.
Not only are cell phones tools for peace of mind, but they save me minutes that quickly turn into hours each week. Raising 4 busy children who on any given day can be spread out across several towns or cities at various events is a daily achievement in time management and multi-tasking. Cell phones let me keep up with them, their schedules, and my husband, coordinating our time and wasting less of it.
Whether or not you own a cell phone, you have probably heard the conflicting reports about their safe use, especially by children. Radiation-emitting products are of health safety concerns, and cell phones do fall into that category. However, according to the FDA, there is no research that clearly states that cell phones do not have any relations to health problems. The FDA does promote the idea that further research is needed, especially for long-term use and among the pediatric population. To keep it in perspective, at this time cell phones are ranked at the same level of carcinogenic exposure as coffee and talc powder.
Probably bigger safety concerns about cell phone use and children are related to distracted driving and bullying via technology. Even though many states are making it illegal to text and drive and are imposing strict regulations on cell phone use and teen drivers, the message isn’t always getting through. Parents must be proactive and help their children be safe cell phone users in a few simple steps.
- Set a good example. Even though it is SO tempting, don’t talk on your cell phone, even where it is legal, while driving.
- Never text and drive.
- If you must communicate while driving, have your kids relay messages over your phone. Many times I’ve had my kids tell me who is calling, have them answer my phone, and then act as my personal assistant while I concentrate on driving.
- Set clear guidelines and follow through with the consequences if your child fails to follow them.
- Make sure your children understand that what is sent in a text can and will be used against you someday. Teach them respectful texting just as you teach them other respectful behaviors.
- Keep tabs on your kids’ cell phones. Check cell phone records and know who they are communicating with each day. If you don’t know who owns the numbers, find out.
As I move through the years with my children and work to communicate with them, stay connected with them, and keep them safe, cell phones seem to be natural parts of the equation in a world where instant access is commonplace. For our family cell phones have not been interruptions in our lives. I don’t plant to give up real face-to-face quality interactions any time soon, but I do plan to take advantage of the benefits of technology. I never did get that pink Walkman – maybe it was because my mom didn’t need me to have it.