The Cell Phone Debate: What is the right time for your child to have one?


Every Wednesday evening at 9:00 ET, The Online Mom hosts a "Twitter Party". Anyone who is registered on Twitter can join in; all you have to do is enter #theonlinemom on TweetChat or TweetGrid.  There's no wine or cheese – although you can always provide your own – but the Tweets are fast-paced and fun, covering kids, tech, online safety and anything else that comes to mind.

Last week, we opened up the discussion by talking about how technology and the Web can help you become better organized and lead a more efficient life. We talked about sites like Cozi and RememberTheMilk, which can help moms manage their busy lives and share information with their families through online calendars and reminders.

However, the discussion eventually turned to cell phones and the age at which it's appropriate for kids to "own" one. This is not a new topic of conversation. We've discussed the issue many times on the pages of this site and in numerous face-to-face meetings with parents. But I am always slightly taken aback by the diversity of views on the subject and how passionately some of those views are held.

Many parents and childcare experts are adamant that kids shouldn't be given regular access to a cell phone until they are at least 13 years-old or are mature enough to use one responsibly. Others regard this as overly strict and readily cave into the well-worn argument that "everyone else has one, so why can't I?"

If you are looking for an answer to that question, then look no further than the latest 'sexting' story, this time out of Montgomery County in Maryland. Apparently some female students at highly-regarded Pyle Middle School and neighboring Whitman High School in Bethesda willingly posed for nude and inappropriate photos and videos, which then circulated among the cell phones and iPods of numerous other students.

Montgomery police are conducting an ongoing investigation into the affair, which might involve girls as young as 12. Meanwhile, the clearly shaken principals of the two schools last week sent a letter to parents and guardians, informing them of what happened and once again warning them of the dangers presented to young students by today's technology.

Whatever your decision regarding camera-equipped and Internet-enabled cell phones and other devices, don't do your young tween or teen the disservice of just handing over the device and leaving them to get on with it. No matter how mature and sensible they appear to you, most kids are young, impetuous and easily-influenced. If you're not there to help them, then no-one else will.

As Valerie Strauss states in her Washington Post article covering the Montgomery case: "Parents never think their kids will engage in such behavior, until their kids engage in such behavior."

Does your young child have a cell phone or smartphone? Do you monitor their texting and e-mail activity? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom?         


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