'My 4-year-old has a cellphone'

She was gone. Missing.

4-year old Joanie was happily climbing the rope ladder in the restaurant play area the last time her mom had her in sight.  She just turned her back for a few minutes to order another fruit juice, and in that time Joanie had disappeared. After a half hour of sheer panic with mall security also in a frenzy, little Joanie was found in one of the bathroom stalls. She couldn’t zip her jeans by herself and ‘was waiting for Mommy.’

Although nobody was harmed, Joanie’s mom insisted that her daughter have a cellphone from that point on. If she had one in this situation, the panic could have been alleviated in a few seconds. On a graver note, if she had been kidnapped, at least her location could have been tracked.

Children of all ages are being given cellphones by safety-conscious parents. But are we taking it too far? Are these devices taking the place of baby-sitters and our own diligent supervision? And what about our teens? Do they really need a smart phone that costs well over R5000 with more features than our own?  Where do we draw the line?

Cellphone pros and cons for all ages

  • Safety. Your child can call you if they have an emergency and you can always get hold of them – even if it’s just to say you will be late picking them up from school.
  • It teaches your children to be responsible. They need to look after their phone, avoid losing it and may even have specific guidelines, such as how many SMSes they can send in a month.
  • It gives your child independence.
  • Some phones have a built-in Global Positioning System (GPS) so that you can literally keep track of where your child is.
  • Cellphones and phone bills can be expensive.  Of course, having a ‘pay as you go’ or prepaid system to avoid unnecessary charges that you will have to pay for is ideal (downloading songs and ringtones for instance can result in a bill that runs into thousands). 
  • Your child has access to the outside world without your supervision. 
  • Cellphones can be a huge distraction, for instance, when your child is crossing the street and SMSing at the same time. 
  • There is controversial speculation that mobile devices can cause cancer in young children. A study in Sweden indicated that children may be five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use cellphones. There is much debate, however, just as there was with adults when cellphones first hit the market.
  • A greater concern is perhaps the way in which cellphones distract and over-excite our children. According to a study by a leading Australian psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, 40% of children with cellphones are sleep deprived on school nights. Children as young as 6 are staying up until the early hours of the morning to SMS their friends.
Read more about cellphones age-by-age.

Can cellphones help children be safer, and at what age?
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