Monday, February 2, 2009

Cellphones: Should I Say Yes?

Today's guest post is by Armin Brott, author of America's most popular how-to books for Dads.

Armin Brott's bestselling books,including the recent release Fathering Your School Age Child, have helped millions of men around the world become the fathers they want to be - and their children need them to be.

Armin has been a guest on hundreds of radio and television shows, writes a nationally syndicated column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and hosts a weekly radio show. He and his family live in Oakland, California. For more information, visit

Cellphones: Should I Say Yes?

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter turns ten next week and has made it known that she expects, needs, yearns for, and won’t be able to live without a cell phone. “Everybody has one,” she says. Is she too young? I’m not even sure I know what the issues are, but it seems like opening a huge can of worms.

Answer: When I was a kid, the rules about cell phones were simple. Oh wait, we didn’t have cell phones at all, which explains why you’re not up on the issues. So let’s start with a few advantages.

• Cell phones allow you and your kids to stay in touch. The additional safety and security that this provides is—at least from your perspective—the greatest benefit. Your daughter can call if she needs you, and you can call her if you need to know where she is and what she’s doing.

• Many parents (mostly those with children older than your daughter) use cell phones as a small-scale introduction to adult responsibilities—everything from paying the bill and staying within monthly minutes to keeping it charged.

At the same time, there are some potential downsides. Whether they outweigh the benefits is your call.

• Having a cell phone can sometimes provide a false sense of security, encouraging kids to go places they wouldn’t ordinarily go “because if anything goes wrong, I have my phone.

• Phones can be a serious distraction, especially when texting is involved. Plus, if the phone is Internet-enabled, there’s the additional risk of unmonitored access to that whole world.

In all fairness, there are ways to control these concerns, including phones that can only call to and from certain phone numbers and plans that allow you to turn off web access and text messaging. There are even certain GPS-enabled phones that send you a text message if your child ventures beyond certain pre-programmed (by you) boundaries. Popular brands include TicTalk, Migo, Kajeet, and Firefly.

Some parents are also concerned about possible cell-phone-related health issues, such as brain tumors or cancer. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh recently recommended that kids use cellphones for emergencies only. However, the jury’s still out on this one: a large number of studies in the US and Europe have found no connection between cell use and any negative health problem.

Health aside, the biggest issue for most parents is money. Phones themselves are pretty cheap. But like printers (which are don’t cost much but guzzle gallons of ink), the hardware is just the beginning. Exceeding your minutes, web browsing, and downloading custom rigntones can be extremely expensive. And so is texting (which in my house is just about the only way to reach my teenagers). Ten cents per message doesn’t sound like much—until you realize that the average American teenager sends 20 text messages a day. That’s over $700 a year just for texting. So either limit the number of messages or consider an unlimited plan.

As with any major step forward, I suggest negotiating a trial period. One week, one month, and three months after getting the phone, sit down with your daughter and take a look at the impact the phone has had on her life and the life of your family. If you believe that the influence has been negative, you can—and probably should—pull the plug, at least for a while. But the odds are good that your daughter will use this time to demonstrate just incredibly darn responsible she is. And who knows—she might even end up cleaning her room too.

Thanks Mr. Dad for helping us to be tech-savvy parents!


Melissa said...

Great insight. We let our boys get cell phones when they turned 13. When our oldest turned 13 we got him one with very few minutes and no texting....which allowed him to only call us. That way he had the "Status" of a cell phone with out the high bill. Our middle sone turned 13 in November and we upgraded him to a nicer phone after his older brother got upgraded. We have one more boy to go (age 9) and I am in no hurry to get him a phone until he turns it for a special birthday. said...

Hi Melissa! Yikes, I'd hate to have your phone bill! Hee, hee! I'd agree that 13 is the "magic" number. What about iPods (are you there yet? . . . times 3!) Thanks so much for your comment, Vicky

Anita, MN said...

Ny 10 yr old daugther has a cell phone. The reason for getting the a cell phone is that she is on the school bus for about 1 1/2 hours and the bus stop is about 3 miles from our home, she gets to bus stop between 5pm -5:15pm. Doesn't sound bad except in Minnesota winters when the bus shows up at 6:45pm and the school was closed. I was able to call my daughter and see where they were. She has no texting ability and she is not allowed to use during school hours. She is not allowed to give the number out and is not allowed to call friends. The phone is strictly for communicating with mom and dad and for emergencies. She is VERY responsible with the phone. said...

Holy cow! That is one heck of a bus ride! Our town is so small, we don't even have bus service. I promise Anita, I will never complain again walking my girls to/from school in the rain or cold. It takes a total of about 4 minutes and it surely doesn't get as cold here as there!
Sounds like a phone is a saving grace - could you imagine that transit without that security for you and her?
Thanks - Jen