Picture of a Cell Phone
Image via Wikipedia

Apparently, it’s not if, but when. Needless to say, when I was growing up, we not only had a dial-up landline, we had only one telephone, installed just off the kitchen, so anyone walking by could overhear whatever you were talking about. Now, that’s parental control.

The only time I got in trouble over using the phone was one late afternoon when I was on the phone for more than an hour, talking to a friend I had spent several hours with that same afternoon. My father was annoyed that I was tying up the phone for so long, and could not understand how we might still have anything to talk about.

I could buy the argument that I was tying up the phone too long. After all, we didn’t have call waiting then. But, as for not understanding what we might have to talk about. Well, he just didn’t understand teenage girls.

Indulgent parents got their daughters a pink Princess phone on their 16th birthdays, with a line in their own bedroom. I only knew one girl who had her own separate phone line. I did not have indulgent parents.

The consensus among parents around when a child should get their own cellphone seems to fall around 11 or 12 years of age, middle school, between fifth and eighth grade. This comes from comments on community blogs in Massachusetts and Maryland, although one mother confessed to giving her son a cell phone when he was in second grade and the editor of one of the blogs, who graduated from high school in 2000, said no one in his school had them then. It is confirmed by a New York Times article, citing a Pew Research study that found that 58% of 12-year-olds had cell phones in 2010, up from 18% in 2004.

Parents cite safety and being in touch as reasons for buying their children cell phones, although it was only a few years ago that they were banned from many schools out of fear they were being used for drug sales.

In researching my 2009 book, “Who Gets to Name Grandma?” one of the mothers I interviewed expressed frustration that her mother did not have a charged cell phone with her when she took the grandchildren to the park a few blocks away, citing safety concerns. Most Grandmothers I know think this is overreaction.

Anticipating that there might be some functions on a cellphone that you don’t want young children to have, such as a camera, Internet access, or texting, companies such as Firefly, Wherifone, Verizon’s Migo and TicTalk have developed cellphones with large keys, GPS positioning and speed-dial keys for Mom and Dad’s numbers. Greatschools.org provides a good overview of these options. The issue of limiting the charges can be handled in several ways, probably the surest a pay-as-you-go phone, in which the charges are pre-loaded and the phone stops working, except for 911, when the charges are used up.

Neither of my adult children uses a landline anymore and both my grandchildren are growing up playing games on their parents’ cell phones, just like my children played games on my home computer. And, just like I watched to see when it was appropriate to leave them alone with the computer, parents will judge when it is appropriate for their children to have their own cellphones. And, just like it was with my parents, the argument, “Everyone is doing it,” is not true, and not enough. You decide.