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“Can you hear me now?”

When should kids have a cell phone?

When I was growing up, it was easy for Mole Hole Club members to stay in touch. My friend, Penn, created our “signature” call: ooh-ooh, ooh-ooh, ooooh-ooooh-ooooooooh! We projected our voices so that the call could be heard not only on Del Valle Avenue, but all the way over to nearby streets. Club members and tag-along siblings would come running to the huge tree that marked our gathering spot. We might play freeze-tag or statue-maker. Maybe we would decide to dig holes at our “secret fort.” When it was time for our fun to end, most moms just stood on front porches calling out our names.

Keeping in touch with friends and family is an essential part of childhood, generation after generation. But technology leads to interesting questions. Do children need cell phones to stay in touch? What factors should parents consider when making this decision?

All my friends have cell phones!

Companies hope parents will yield to this refrain! Cell phone marketing has hit the grade-school set – hard. Disney has a Web site for its “Disney mobileTM” phones for children – its ring tones include songs from Beauty and the Beast! Mattell’s MySceneTM Mobile has a “reward board” to integrate phone use with behavior. Its ads say, “Just go online, set a list of chores, which can include making the bed, finishing homework or not arguing with your brother or sister and place stars on the completed tasks. At the end of the week or month, parents can buy extra minutes according to the child’s list of completed tasks.”   

Beyond the status symbol

As a parent, we need to examine the reasons behind the purchase decision. Talking to friends as a reward for finishing homework or engaging in other expected behaviors is counterproductive. But, would there be an advantage to having more parent-child access? Whatever the child’s age, consider the benefits. For example, a phone may enhance the safety of teen drivers in cases of road emergencies. Also look at drawbacks. Many adolescents talk continuously while driving, increasing their risks. Think carefully about the developmental level of your child. How will you respond if the phone is lost or damaged? Dirty jeans may be tossed into the washer, cell phone and all! (I am speaking from experience). Having the ability to track your child’s whereabouts may seem like an automatic plus, but think twice. What does it mean in terms of emerging issues of autonomy and independence? How will you react when the phone is turned off?

Technological advances have pluses and minuses. Weigh your decision thoughtfully and bring it to prayer. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5)