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What’s Next—Cell Phones for Preschoolers?

Technology brings new parenting dilemmas.

One of the questions a parent of an incoming sixth-grader asked me after info night at Lawson Middle School: “Do ALL the kids in middle school have cell phones?”

I’ll admit that I felt A LOT of resentment five years ago when I equipped my then-sixth-grade son with his first cell phone. Our middle school does not have a pay phone, and the office is not open when after-school sports end. At that time, maybe one in seven students had a cell phone (with limited minutes and no texting enabled!).

For his safety and our piece of mind, my husband and I felt forced to get him a cell phone. My daughter got hers for a similar reason four years ago when she was in the fourth grade—the carpool driver dropped her at a soccer field for practice after school instead of home. Almost none of her classmates at the time had a cell phone. 

Nowadays, it seems most of the students in middle school have a cell phone. Many have better phones and plans than I do! My daughter estimates that 90 percent of her eighth-grade classmates have a phone, and my son claims 98 percent of his 11th-grade classmates tote them (the 2 percent who don't are mostly kids who have lost their phones, and their parents refuse to replace them!).

In a recent classroom poll in a fifth-grade classroom at Lincoln Elementary, 75 percent of the students reported that they own a cell phone.

Even though it serves as an electronic leash to their parents, I think virtually any student would choose to carry one. My kids have a hard time imagining what my childhood must have been like without one.

A sign of the times? A status symbol? A right of passage? A necessity or luxury? The average age of kids getting their first cell phone seems to be dropping every year.

I realize that circumstances vary, but what do you think is the right age to equip your child with a cell phone?

Bruce Parsons March 01, 2011 at 08:34 PM
RE : cell phones for pre-schoolers. I think the subject should be viewed from a broader perspective, i.e., not just form the 'telephone' aspect. Cell phones can also be used as tracking devices, locating devices, to find a bus route, emergency alarms, etc etc etc. This subject should be analyzed from the point of view of "what is the device needed for" not just from the point of view of " should my kid have a telephone." Bruce Parsons Mar. 1, 2011
Anne Ernst (Editor) March 01, 2011 at 08:54 PM
I see what you're saying Bruce. But do you think a 5-year-old can be responsible throughout a school day (and longer) for a cell phone? I'm thinking about how kids play and don't think about something like a cell phone falling out of a pocket or backpack and into a mud puddle.

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