Cellphones age children too fast; need to allow more time to grow

The latest Hilary Duff single sounds off in the silent movie theater. But it’s not an adult who frantically shuffles through her purse to turn the device off. It’s not even a teenager. It’s a 9-year-old girl.The market research firm NPD Group’s third annual Kids and Consumer Electronics Trends report found that the average age children first use electronics is lowering. In 2005, the average age was 8.1 years, but it is now down to 6.7 years.

I know we are becoming a more technologically dependent society every day, but seriously, a cell phone for 6-year-olds?

The thought of first graders not only surfing the Internet but also texting their friends – setting up their own play dates perhaps – is downright scary.

And manufacturers are certainly recognizing a new market in cell phones. Every company seems to have created a cellphone specifically for children. Easy to use, easy for parents to control and in a variety of bright colors and shapes. As a result, manufacturers have found the perfect product to market. What child wouldn’t want a phone called Firefly? Or the one shaped like a teddy bear? Disney even jumped on the bandwagon and has its own child-friendly phone service.

I worked at a day camp this summer for kids ranging from 5 to 11 years old. Out of about 30 kids, at least 10 had cell phones, while another eight said they were promised phones when they turned 9 or 10.

I know parents give cell phones to their children as a way to keep track of them and for emergencies, but are parents really that unaware of their elementary-aged child’s whereabouts?

When I was in high school, it was the norm to get a cellphone when you started driving, which makes perfect sense. When teens have their own transportation and a way to get away from parents, a cell phone to stay in contact with them is ideal.

But just where is a 9-year-old going that they won’t be either with an adult or by a phone?

Maybe some parents think a cell phone will serve as an added bond to their child and will deepen their relationship. However, for many, giving children cell phones will just alienate them at even earlier ages.

So much for the teen-angst years when they lock themselves in their rooms with their cellphone, telling all of their friends about the latest injustice or embarrassment courtesy of their parents. Instead of parents dealing with a few years of being shut out, it can now last an entire decade. Now what parent would want that?

If you give a child a cell phone, what’s next? Credit cards? A BlackBerry? A subscription to The Wall Street Journal? Parents always comment on how fast their children are growing up, so why rush it?

Kids ought to get a chance to just be kids.

Elizabeth Davidson is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Austin.