Saturday, August 23, 2008

Kids and Cell Phones: A Bad Idea

I recently read an article about children and cell phone usage. The article cites the Center on Media and Child Health, which states that 54 percent of 8- to 12-year-olds will have a cell phone in the next three years.

This is a bad idea in the majority of cases. I grant there may be times when a parent would like a child of this age to have a cell phone on certain occasions and for limited durations, but to allow a child as young as 8 to have their own cell phone 24/7 is a bad move.

Why? Cell phones these days are not just glorified walkie-talkies, as were early cell phones. Today cell phones are not only communications devices, but entertainment appliances. They provide chat, text messaging, access to the Internet, e-mail, can play videos and music, etc.

Why would I want one of my young children to own such a device? I have four children and none of them have a cell phone (the oldest is a teenager). In my experience around children who have cell phones the devices breed incivility, entertainment-craving proclivities, and unhealthy Pavlovian conditioning - it rings and, so we think, we must answer no matter where we are or what we are doing!

I grant that there are positive aspects to children having access to cell phones on limited occasions. In such instances, I let my children borrow a bare-bones cell phone (harder to find these days) so they can contact me if/when needed.

Note that the article I cite above is titled, "What to know before buying your kid a cell phone." The actual link I used to get to the article was titled, "Should you buy your kid a cell phone?" These titles have different implications. The first presumes you will buy your child a cell phone, while the second is presented as a more discerning title.

While the article does list some dangers of cell phone usage and children, it is largely positive and, with respect to philosophy of technology it is essentially silent or quite superficial. Once again we see a technology embraced with little genuine analysis and criticism of underlying principles of usage.

I'd rather raise children with discerning sensibilities than granting them 24/7 access to entertainment via their very own cell phones.


Adam D said...

Heck, more adults should think carefully before buying themselves a cell phone, let alone their kids. I'm actually a fan of technological advancement and find myself immensely indebted to the resources provided by the internet, but think I'm better off for having no cell phone. I cherish my privacy and peace too much! To this point in life, nobody has had to get in touch with me so urgently that whatever was to be communicated couldn't wait a couple hours for me return home and listen to a recorded message. Now friends and family tell me that such emergencies are all but inevitable and wonder how I survive without a cell phone. fooey!

Robert Velarde said...

Good point, Adam. My three primary criticisms of cell phone usage in children do indeed apply to adults - incivility issues, the increase in entertainment-craving proclivities, and unhealthy Pavlovian responses.

At least with children it's theoretically easier to teach technological discernment, as they have yet to be tied to entertainment appliances such as cell phones, but that may change if younger and younger children expect their own cell phones.

And congratulations to you for living without a cell phone. I had one for about 8 months, but recently got rid of it. I am liberated!