Cell phones are an integral part of kids’ lives. According to research by C&R Research, 22 percent of young children own a cell phone (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18. And cell phone companies are now marketing to younger children with colorful kid-friendly phones and easy-to-use features. According to market research firm the Yankee Group, 54 percent of 8 to12 year olds will have cell phones within the next three years.
With cell phone usage growing rapidly for children and teens, we offer the following information and tips for parents:
The Upside to Cell Phones
Health and Wellness Help: Programs that deliver personalized text messages that help a person with dieting, remembering to take medications, or encouraging them to quit smoking are gaining in popularity. For instance, one company is exploring the ability to send photos of what you are eating via your phone’s camera so you can communicate with a nutrition advisor about that food.
Safety: The benefits of cell phones in emergency situations is undisputed. The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 74 percent of Americans say they’ve used a cell phone in an emergency. In addition, some emergency agencies are encouraging cell phone users to put “ICE” (in case of emergency) in front of names of people in your cell phone directory whom emergency personal should call in case of an emergency. New phones using GPS technology allow parents to track the location of a phone and thus, hopefully, their child.
Convenience: No one can argue the convenience of being able to reach your child immediately, or a child being able to reach his parent, in the case of a sudden change of plans. Also, the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that approximately 41 percent of cell phone users say they multitask by making phone calls while commuting or waiting – a time-saving option almost unheard of 10 years ago.
The Downsides of Cell Phones
- Mental health: Another study looked at addictive, problematic use of cell phones and found a link between low self-esteem and problem cell phone use. A study measuring the link between cell phones and mental health found that teens who used cell phones the most were more likely to be anxious and depressed.
- Bullying: Text messaging is increasing used by bullies to torment their victims. Cyberbullying, psychological harassment in text or instant messaging, is more often perpetrated by girls, who initiate inappropriate messages or spread damaging gossip.
- Eye strain and “digital thumb”: Just like other repetitive strain injuries that can result from computer use and other repetitive tasks, these conditions can result from focusing continually on a small screen and typing on small buttons.
- Bacteria: Because of the close proximity to the mouth where germs can be passed from breathing, coughing and sneezing, most cell phones are crawling with bacteria. Additionally, many people use their phone everywhere, even in the bathroom.
- Brain tumors and low sperm counts: While some research investigating the effects of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones in close proximity to the body have found statistical associations, other studies have found no increased risk.
- Lack of sleep: One study found that some teen cell phone users are likely to be woken at night by incoming text messages or calls, and are therefore more likely to be tired and less able to focus throughout the day.
Dishonesty: The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 39 percent of cell users ages 18-29 say they are not always truthful about where they are when they are on the phone.
Expense: Parents often experience sticker shock when they receive the bill for their child’s cell phone. Special ring tones, text, picture and video messaging, downloadable games, overage minutes and connecting to the Internet can all be very expensive and heavily used by teens.
© 2004-2008 Center on Media and Child Health, Children's Hospital Boston.