Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Technology: Pros and Cons of Cell Phones for Tweens and Teens

Nearly four out of every five teens carry a wireless device according to a national survey by CTIA and Harris Interactive. The survey shows 17 million teens with a mobile device and they are the first generation (“Gen M“) to grow up in a mobile world.

As parents we like the peace of mind and convenience that cell phones offer. And it’s difficult finding fault with the ability to reach our child at any time anywhere. Are we parents aware of all that goes along with cell phones? And how old should the child be before they get one?

Our son got his first cell phone when he was 11 years old (he’s now 14) and he racked up a few “extra” charges. Kids at that age don’t read the fine print of offers or understand the subtleties of a sales pitch . We were paying for the “free-to-try” games he downloaded on a trial basis and never cancelled. Then there was our bout with the “free” to download ring tones you pay for each month. The original plan had texting at 5 cents each text in or out and that cost us an additional $300 one month for him and $125 another month for his older sister.

The Pro side for Cell Phones for Kids

Safety: With GPS capability parents can track the phone’s location and hopefully keep tabs on the child as long as their cell is not turned off. Parents can put the acronym “ICE” (in case of emergency) in front of the names in our child’s contact directory to show whom emergency people should call.

Convenience: Having a cell phone certainly is convenient when your child or you are going to be late or there’s a sudden change in plans. They also come in handy keeping track of kids, husbands and wives when you’re shopping.

The Con side for Cell Phones for kids

Safety: With school shootings and terrorist attacks we have some level of comfort knowing we can contact our children. However, think about the havoc hundreds of cell phones dialing 911 could cause during an emergency. Can you visualize the resultant parental stampede to the school when the kids start calling home?

Grades: Cells certainly can cause a problem in school because they make it easier to cheat unless the school has a system that knocks out all cell phones in the building. Kids texting their buddies detracts from studies during class time or the little darlings will disrupt the class when they share some interesting tidbit or photo.

A New York Times article, called "A Ring Tone Meant To Fall on Deaf Ears,” is about a ring tone developed by a High School freshman which cannot be heard by most adults due to the gradual loss of hearing that results as we age. Apparently people under the age of about 30 can hear it.

Envision the power imbalance with this little goodie. In places where cell phones are banished our little angels can be notified of incoming text messages right under our noses --- imagine that. This techno treat was developed almost 3 years ago.

Cost: On our cell phone family plan each additional phone line is only $9.95 per month. However, my son has had 5 cell phones in 3 years and they aren’t cheap. The first one he broke because he was too rough with it (translation, we‘re not quite sure what happened but he broke it); the second one got waterlogged by a friend; the third got stolen at the pool; the fourth died from either a “kungfoo kick” from a friend or happened when my son fell on it; the fifth one is dying due to texting. His father had a new cell phone for 2 weeks when the child borrowed it because his was stolen and his dad’s cell ended up a casualty of a skateboard accident.

Our kids have no access to the internet on their cells, but they do have unlimited texting in the hopes of curtailing the monthly minutes. Paying 69 cents per minute over your plan can wreck havoc on your monthly budget.

Health Risks:
Eye strain and “texting thumb” are very real. Cell phone screens are small and while you’re sleeping your child could be texting. My mom had it easy. All she had to worry about was my constantly reading with a flashlight under a blanket when I was supposed to be asleep. A couple of weeks ago my son stuck his thumb in front of my face and asked what I could do to stop the pain because it was really sore --- I said, “stop texting!” The sore thumb syndrome is akin to repetitive strain injuries.

Bullying: Tormenting by texting or taking embarrassing photos is a form of psychological harassment often perpetrated by girls. Those teen movies where mean girls take compromising photos of other kids and instantly send them to their entire contact list happens in real life too. According to recent research,
the amount of girls bullying by cellphone has increased each year since 2002. There's an article here with some good advice.

Then we have those “inappropriate” photos or videos that get uploaded to a website or blog. Once that information gets on the internet it can be accessed even if it was deleted. And the bullying is not done just by children. I’ve had two mothers call my son to chastise him for some perceived slight to their son or daughter, but that topic is for another time. Boys also participate in bullying through texting. My son received one telling him that, “ he was going to get his a** beaten the next day,” for some difference of opinion. My son’s not a bad kid, he’s a boy and a teenager which explains almost everything about his behavior.

Lying: Surprise! Kids won’t always tell you where they really are when they’re on the phone. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 39 percent of cell users between 18 and 29 admitted they aren’t always truthful about their whereabouts when on the phone. I’ve driven by my son as he was telling me he was playing Xbox games with a friend. I’ve had one of my son’s friends at my front door looking for him at the same time my son was on his cell telling me he was at that friend’s house. I’m shocked. I’m mortified. When we were teenagers we never lied about our whereabouts. Who am I kidding? The difference between then and now is with technology the kids can get extremely creative and it‘s done in the blink of an eye.

Sexual Predators: On my cell, I've received a text message telling me to come check out “her” new pictures on her Web site. The message was made to look like I knew who the person was that sent it. It‘s like all the “junk” e-mails that appear in your inbox---they‘re on your cell now too. And I have found them on my son's cell also.

Cell phones can be used by sexual predators to create and maintain an inappropriate relationship with your child. You’re not always there when your child gets a call or text. Junior can occasionally put one over us so it shouldn’t surprise you that sexual predators can fly below our radar.

Sexting: The act of young girls and boys taking inappropriate photos of themselves and sending them to other kids via cell phones has been dubbed “sexting.” Sometimes these photos are sent to tease and flirt and sometimes they’re sent to simply shock. Kids generally don’t think past the end of their nose. However, those naughty photos can pop up when their young and reckless years are behind them and then their careers or family life are trashed because they had a giant brain fart as a child. MSNBC has a good article from January 2009 on teens facing child porn charges because of sexting and there‘s another one from AP.

What Can Parents Do?

Establish a set of rules and responsibilities for using the cell phone. We don’t allow calls or texts out after 9 p.m. for our son. We don’t allow loaning the cell phone to other kids. And both his father and I check his cell for the texts he sends and receives. We also check his contact list. I thoroughly go over the cell phone bills so I know whom he’s been talking with. His cell is not in his bedroom at night. It gets charged in the living room and it’s turned off. This way he’s not texting until the wee hours of the morning. He has also been told not to answer calls or return them from numbers he doesn’t have in his contact list because of the possibility of scams, bullying etc. And finally, I have GPS activated to locate him if I need to.

Technology is not a babysitter. When we give our children a computer, a game console or a cell phone, we still need to monitor them and they’re use of it. As parents, we need to decide if our child is responsible enough to use the technology safely. These pieces of technology are not toys: they’re tools, which need to be respected and used sensibly. Our decision to buy a cell phone for our child is a very individual choice. Keeping up with the advances in technology and staying one step ahead of our angels is a tremendous amount of work.

No comments:

Post a Comment