Thursday, August 9, 2007

I'll Call You During Recess!

When the movie Clueless came out in 1995 the idea of teenage girls having cell phones in high school was far out. Something only rich California girls did. Flash forward to 2007. I was standing in the aisle of an airplane waiting for the hordes of people to start moving the other week when I couldn't help but over hear a young boy and his mom, it went a little something like this:

"But Kyle got his phone when he was in 8th grade! And Sean got his phone in 8th grade too! And David's getting one soon! Mooooooooooooooom pleeeeeaase!"

8th grade? Yowza. Some parents are springing even earlier- and there is market waiting for them. Disney announced just last month a deal with Sprint to offer wireless service targeted at 8- to 12-year-olds.

Kajeet is a cell phone company especially designed for youngsters. It is a pay as you go plan that has special parent control features like Time Manager, that allows you to control when the phone can and cannot be used.

What is often considered the original, Firefly is designed for the elementary age as it only has 5 buttons total, no number pad or text messaging here. Kids can call up to 22 preprogrammed numbers, and the phone accept calls from only numbers you approve.

The decision to get a child a cell phone is a big one, for many reasons. As NYTimes reporter Lisa Foderard wrote earlier this year, "For parents, the decision of when, or whether, to buy children cellphones — paralleling the age-old debate over the appropriate age for ear piercing — is emotionally charged and value-laden, raising ticklish questions about safety and status, maturity and materialism."

1. Busy parents, separated parents, families with complex child care situations - they can all have ease of mind. Dad forgets to pick up Annie at soccer practice? She can call Aunt Maud and the coach isn't stuck waiting around.
2. Medical reasons. Bobby very often forgets to take his insulin, you have to call and remind him when he's playing down the street at Joey's house.
3. Many phones have GPS just for tracking kids. In the rare instance that your child is missing, you can figure out where his phone is and hopefully he'll be there too. Or on the other hand, if you just want to know if he's really studying in the library, you can find out.

1. They can be hard to monitor. You have enough to worry about with raising children- why give them another outlet?
2. Too much freedom too early. High schools and middle schools are now feeling the burden of kids using phones at inappropriate times- namely during class. Cheating is also much easier with available cell phones. If they don't really need them, then why tempt them with unlimited access to gossiping?
3. Cost. It's not a one time purchase like a PlayStation or bike, it is the initial cost of the phone plus all minutes used and text messages sent. And if they loose the phone, do you buy them another?

Quoted in the NYTimes article, Phyllis Schneble, a marketing executive in Fairfield, Conn., summed up my opinion very well, “Generations survived with a dime tucked in their shoe... Ninety percent of the calls made on cellphones are not critical or even substantive — mostly pure fluff and nonsense. Where are the casual conversations on the street, in the halls, when everyone is plugged into their own world?”

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