12/20: Kids and Cell Phones

December 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Carol Anne Riddell

When should a child be given his/her own cell phone?  Who is the phone really for — the parent or the child?  What rules and restrictions should be placed on the phone’s use?

Carol Anne Riddell

Carol Anne Riddell

The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Marist Poll Contributor Carol Ann Riddell about the plusses and minuses of equipping your child with a wireless phone.

Listen to the interview below.

John Sparks
Carol Anne, let’s talk about cell phones.  Specifically at what age do you think a child should have his or her own cell phone?

Listen to Part 1:


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Carol Anne
Well, I think that it’s a very individual decision, like so many things in parenting, you have to make the decision is that right for your own family. In my case, my children are young.  My daughter is seven years old and has a cell phone.  Now before everyone would jump up and down and say that’s completely inappropriate, I would point out that because her father and I are divorced, she’s traveling with a sitter back and forth between my home and school and her father’s home, and I want her — I want both my kids to know that they can reach me whenever they want to.  Now that said, nine and seven years old are probably too young for phones in many people’s opinions, but I had to make a decision based on what I felt was appropriate to my specific situation. Now there have been some pitfalls with it.  I do think that my children are still at an age where there really a bit too young to be fully responsible for something as valuable as a cell phone, so it ends up that I’m the one finding the phone, making sure it’s charged, that sort of situation.  But again, because of our specific family situation, I think the benefit of being able to be in touch outweighed the downside for me, at least at this point. For most people, they think about cell phones older, more to the point of, you know tweens, I would say 10/11 years old is a more typical time to do it.

John Sparks
What are some other reasons you might give a child a cell phone?

Carol Anne
Well, I think there’s a lot of reasons, but for most parents it has to all do with security, with convenience, and with piece of mind for all of us.  My children are too young to be traveling on their own, but there still are times where they may want or need to call me, and I want them to have the security of knowing that they can reach me.  I want to have the security of knowing that I can reach them. There are things like day to day logistics, a piano lesson gets cancelled, a soccer game goes late, and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but you know you can’t ignore the potential for crisis situations in which we would want to be able to reach our kids first and foremost. When you think of things like school shootings, what we all went through here in New York on 9/11, the potential for natural disasters, those are all times when we, as parents, have to be able to get to our kids immediately and first and foremost.

John Sparks
So, who does the cell phone benefit most, the parent or the child?

Carol Anne
I think both. I admit that getting my kids cell phones was very much also about me.  As I said, as a divorced parent, I really want to be able to contact my kids even when they’re not with me, and a cell phone gives me that access. But there’s also a very big benefit for them because they feel connected. They feel connected to me emotionally, and that’s really important to me. I think that there is another piece of this for kids which has to do with sort of the status symbol of having a cell phone, and that can be very counterproductive for kids.

Listen to Part 2:


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John Sparks
What kind of rules or restrictions do you place on the use of the phone by your child?

Carol Anne
As many as I can come up with, John, and I think that that’s generally a good rule to follow, at least in the beginning.  There’s lots of options that you can consider when you look at a cell phone for your child, like a prepaid plan. You can look at restricting what the phone can actually do, like Internet browsing and texting. We also have a habit of really looking very closely at the bill every month because I don’t want the kids downloading tons of games and ringtones. The point is that the phone is not a toy.  It’s a way for us to stay in touch.  Now, so far we haven’t had issues with the kids downloading expensive, unnecessary stuff, but we do have to keep a close eye on that because I think that that comes with the territory eventually. Another thing that we thought about it, and I think it’s an important thing to remember as parents go through this, is really thinking about limiting who your kids can talk to on the cell phone.  Behold, don’t talk to strangers policy applies to the wireless world too and there are options with phones where you can specifically program who they can speak to, and I think that that’s a really good option for people to consider.  Phone cameras, that’s another area you have to be really careful in. Kids can end up taking or receiving really inappropriate pictures, and that’s something you’d want to think about when buying a phone. I’m a big fan of going with sort of the most basic phone you can possibly get for kids. I think it’s more than enough and plenty.

John Sparks
You know in the classroom, teachers usually have rules about the phones being turned off. Do you run into problems there in equipping your kids with their cell phones?

Carol Anne
Yeah, we certainly talk to them about it.  My kids will stick their cell phones in their backpacks, but they remained turned off until they get out of school and they need to call me. I think parents have to be really very aware of that.  You’ll probably remember in New York City there was a lot of controversy around this issue because of the policy not allowing cell phones in the classroom and kids not knowing what to do with them when they got to school, but there are some very valid arguments for why they don’t want them in the classroom that are very obvious too.  There… A cell…  A ringing cell phone is disruptive to everyone in the class.  So in addition to the rules about I think who kids can talk to and what they can download, you really have to have rules about when they can use the phone, and the school day is absolutely off limits.

Listen to Part 3:


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John Sparks
Carol Anne, are these phones addictive?  Do they keep your child from doing homework, taking care of the chores, keeping focus on school?

Carol Anne
I don’t think that we can say that yes, phones are bad, phones are addictive or video games are bad, video games are addictive, but I do think that when parents allow kids to use cell phones inappropriately, yes, they can be bad and, yes, they probably can be addictive in some sense of the word. I think distraction is a very serious issue.  We have to have strict rules about when the phones can be turned on and they can be used, but I think that this is all through the same way that you monitor things like video games and TV watching, common sense applies, and when the rules get broken, there are consequences for that.  In our case, the phone gets taken away for a period of time.  There is a real downside I think to kids using the phones constantly to communicate rather than sort of walking to the next room and speaking to the person in it, and I think that’s something we want to avoid.

John Sparks
You know, I was going to ask you if all this texting and tweeting and telephoning kept them from developing their social skills and makes them want to avoid face-to-face contact.  What do you think about that?

Carol Anne
It’s such a fascinating topic, and I think we have to as parents, really consider how technology is affecting this generation of children because, as we know, it is a completely wireless generation. They are always connected, and we just didn’t have that as part of our experience growing up. I do think there’s a risk when kids spend too much time communicating via text and email that they lose out as far as building those face-to-face communication skills, and I think that we — there’s evidence of that.  We’ve seen that, and we’ve heard that talked about a lot.  On the other hand, we can’t ignore that this is our reality. Technology is here. It’s not going away.  What we try to do is sort of manage screen time generally in our house, and by screen time, I mean computers and TV and iPods and phones, the whole thing, anything that has a screen. Play a game of cards or Uno instead. But I have… And we do have to remember that you can’t turn back time, and I don’t think we would want to either.

John Sparks
I agree there. Is a cell phone a necessity for my child?

Carol Anne
Ah, you know that is a very interesting question. I think it really depends on the individual family, and I think in many, many cases parents would say, “Yes,” particularly for an older child. For example, a child in New York City who is traveling alone to and from school and may be taking the bus or may be taking the subway and that parent really feels that it is an absolute necessity to check in with that child when he or she gets off the subway or gets off the bus. I think there are certainly situations where parents and kids would say, “It is absolutely a necessity.” I think there are also situations where parents are simply indulging kids like they do with any other luxury item, having the coolest, newest, fastest thing, and cell phones can fall into that category because they have become a real status symbol for children. I think that the cell phone conversation is a great chance to talk to kids about some of these things.  For starters, what you just mentioned, John, what is a want versus what is a need?  And what does it mean to be responsible for something that’s really valuable because a cell phone costs money.  There’s real value to do that. And what’s the repercussion if you do lose that item?  We have… In our house, we have this three-month replacement policy for all those types of valuable items, things like an iPod or a Nintendo DS or phone, and we’ve had to use that. That is an extremely hard lesson because 12 weeks feels like a lifetime to a child, but it’s a really valuable lesson, and you know the hard, sad, last thing I would say on that also is that don’t think that giving your kids a phone means that they’re always going to be available to talk to you because it’s amazing how often they’re too busy to pick up.

Part 4:


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John Sparks
Well, that’s what I was going to ask.  Say you get in a spat with your child, your child gets in a huff and won’t take your calls anymore, it’s kind of a power play.

Carol Anne
It can be, and I think that it’s absolutely true and sad to say, but I think in those situations what we always have to remember, right, is that we’re the parent, and you have to then reserve the right to take that phone away. If my call keeps getting declined, and that hasn’t happened to me yet, but if it does, I’ll be the first one to be putting that phone in the top dresser drawer for awhile.

John Sparks
Anything else you’d like to add, Carol Anne?

Carol Anne
You know, there’s just one other thought that I had about some of this as we were talking and that is when we think about things like the texting and the e-mailing and the sort of digital shorthand that kids have, one thing that I’ve noticed, and I’ve done some stories about this in the past as well, is that kids use so much shorthand now because of the language of texting that I think sometimes things like spelling and handwriting can suffer. I’ve interviewed teachers before who have complained about even older students really having terrible spelling skills because they haven’t really learned appropriate ways to spell, and they have a computer correct it for them so it’s not part of their knowledge base, or they will use text shorthand in a formal paper, and I think that that’s something also that as parents, we have to really watch for as kids use this kind of technology, particularly at very young ages. They’re just developing these skills to write and speak and read fluently, and when they’re young and they sort of fall into the habits of texting shorthand, I think it can be disruptive to those skills.  So, I think it’s just another thing that I’ve noticed, and I’m keeping an eye on myself.

John Sparks
Certainly I’ve noticed that, or I’ve been told rather that kids no longer write nor can they read or decipher cursive because of this.

Carol Anne
I think that’s a very common thing.  I think cursive is not as widely taught as it once was, and I think kids really have their own shorthand language that is part of a digital world that we just didn’t — you know we didn’t have anything like that growing up, and you know again, I think there is something to moving forward, and we can’t turn back time. We don’t want to turn back progress, and we don’t want to turn back technology, but there are some very basic skills that are not debatable in terms of their value, and I think like learning to write clearly and spell well, and I think that to the degree that texting and that kind of shorthand interrupts that is a real problem.

John Sparks
Thank you, Carol Anne. It’s always a pleasure talking with you.

Carol Anne
Thanks, John. I appreciate it.

Comments

3 Responses to “12/20: Kids and Cell Phones”

  1. Dan Foster on October 25th, 2011 6:32 pm

    What an incredibly intelligent and insightful interview. I suppose it’s what most conscientious parents would call common sense but I fear that many aren’t thinking things through as much as this.

  2. Mark Wheeler on September 7th, 2012 4:44 am

    I have 3 children myself and they are always asking for a cell phone, but I don’t think they are ready for them yet. Phones these days are more than just talking. They can access things on the Internet they should stay away from. I’ve just made up my mind that they will have to wait until they are older.

  3. William Villagran on October 17th, 2013 1:35 pm

    Great interview. I have kids that I have given them kids before but I never gave them a phone until I felt that they were ready. I let them show me how responsible they were before I even considered giving them a cell phone and so far it has worked out great

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