Becoming too connected used to be an issue kids had with stuffed animals and pacifiers. Now it’s a matter of smart phones and tablets. And whether this is a positive development remains to be seen.
Sure, growing up in the technology age has its fair share of benefits: instant access to endless educational possibilities and preparation for the jobs of the future, just to name a couple. But it also exposes young people to a host of issues far less benign than anything even the Velveteen Rabbit could throw at you. From radiation exposure and childhood obesity to cyberbullying and sex crimes, kids these days must run a gauntlet of technological issues in order to get into a good college, earn a decent wage and ultimately lead a happy, healthy, prosperous life.
Among the important decisions parents must therefore make – along with screen-time limits and whether to monitor social media – is when to give a child his or her own cell phone. Is there an ideal age? What parental rules and restrictions should accompany the privilege? And, perhaps most importantly, should phones be allowed at school?
Researchers from the London School of Economics found that students in high schools with cell-phone bans received about a week’s worth of additional education each year and scored over 6% better on standardized tests. But how far can we extrapolate such findings, both in terms of younger children and beyond school grounds?
For additional insight that may help guide parents, we posed one simple question – “should kids have cell phones?” – to a panel of leading experts in the fields of education, family studies and technology. You can check out their bios and responses below. And if you’d like to join the discussion, you can share your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the page.
Why Kids Should Not Have Cell Phones
- "Infants, toddlers and preschoolers should not have cell phones. The argument has a few simple points - cell phones are expensive, screen time is bad for kids this age, and the kids don’t know what to do with the phones."
Ross Hunter // Director, Washington State Department of Early Learning
- "There are several reasons why kids should not have cell phones. Kids with cell phones are likely to spend too much time on them, keeping them from doing more productive things like exercising and reading. There is increasing evidence of addiction to electronic devices, which like any other kind of addiction is destructive. Many kids with cell phones lose sleep because of talking at night or because of being anxious that they do not miss a call, and as a result suffer from headaches and sleepiness during the day, which interferes with learning at school."
David O. Carpenter // Director, Institute for Health and the Environment & Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, University at Albany
- "Kids should not have cell phones. I may be alone on this, but I don’t see a real need for them, and I certainly don’t see the benefits for young children. I actually know of a five-year-old child who owns a cell phone. Children’s excessive use of cell phones can lead to issues with both health and safety."
Georgia S. Thompson // Vice President of the Programs and Affiliate Network, National Black Child Development Institute
- "We go to great lengths to protect the child brain with car seats and bike helmets, yet we are exposing them now to an agent that many governments control/ban/restrict. Due to their thinner skulls and unique physiology, children can receive twice as much radiation into their brain and up to ten times as much into their skull compared at an adult. Children’s developing brains are the most vulnerable."
Theodora Scarato // Clinical Social Worker & Director of Public Affairs and Educational Programs, Environmental Health Trust
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Why Kids Should Have Cell Phones
- "As digital natives, many kids begin using technology at a very young age. Having a cell phone seems to be a natural extension of that. Does that mean a kindergarten student should have one? No. Does it mean it should be automatically ruled out? No. Rather than simply answering no or yes to a child having a cell phone, one must consider the purpose for having it. As kids and society become more technologically savvy, the answer will often be yes, a cell phone will be a benefit for the child."
Jan Urbanski – Director of Safe and Humane Schools in the Institute on Family & Neighborhood Life at Clemson University
- "I think age 9 is a good time for a cell phone—the student is in the 3rd or 4th grade and they are learning about the world. However, it is key for students to be given training around using a cell phone. For example, students should know about turning on/off the cell phone in school as well as lowering or muting the volume of the ringer during classes."
Beth Rosenberg // Director, Tech Kids Unlimited
- "The real issue is not a question of yes or not but instead one of how. In other words, what we should be focusing on is whether young people are using cell phones responsibly and judiciously and how well we are teaching them to do both."
Robert Crosnoe // Chair of the Department of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin & President-Elect, Society for Research on Adolescence
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Why It’s a Situational Decision
- “If the question were whether teens should have cell phones, I would answer yes in most circumstances. However, children are receiving cell phones at younger and younger ages, and I am not a fan of elementary school children owning cell phones. While there is not a magic age or a one-size-fits-all for when a child is ready for a cell phone, there is often little reason to rush toward ownership. While children may very well need access to technology at school, there are a variety of devices (tablets, for example) that can allow internet access without opening a young child up to the continued distraction and pressure to be ‘always available,’ which is what cell phone ownership often demands.”
Patti Agatston // President, International Bullying Prevention Association & Co-author, “Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age”
- "To answer this question, I consulted a 16-year-old who uses her phone extensively for texting and social media. I expected a resounding “yes” from her, but her first reaction was “No, it’s too distracting and addictive.” But then she began to think of the positive uses – ability to reach parents easily, consulting with friends about homework, etc. - and she concluded that it’s a complicated question. I agree. The answer varies by the age of children and their needs."
Joan W. Almon // Co-founder and Director of Programs, Alliance for Childhood
- "It depends on a multitude of factors. For example, how old is the child? A two-year-old does not need a cell phone, but a six-year-old might. So now ask yourself why does the child need a phone? If s/he is a child that is left alone often either at home or at series of scheduled practices/events, having such a tool can be quite handy for the family as well as make everyone feel safe. If having a phone is simply a fashion, social, or economic statement, I would say no."
Christopher P. Brown // Professor of Education, University of Texas at Austin
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