Parenting Project: Too young for cell phones? - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Parenting Project: Too young for cell phones?


MADISON (WKOW) -- It may have become permanently attached to your hand in the last five years. While most adults can't seem to live without their cell phones, the same may be coming true for kids. But the debate over when a child should get a cell phone and how they should be able to use it continues.

Eighth grader Heather Jeans got her first cell phone when she was eight. Her mom Tammy told us, "But when we first got her cell phone she was only allowed to use it back and forth to school. All other times it stayed at home."

Recent research by the Pew Institute shows most young people do have cell phones - about 75 percent. Some get them as young as third grade, like Heather. But most - about 46 percent - are in middle school.

A professor from UW-Madison says that's the age, somewhere between 10 and 14, when kids are most susceptible to peer pressure. So if Johnny has a cell phone, Jimmy needs one too. "We're entering a brave new world of communications where young people need to understand messages from their peers that not spoken but written or texted and be able to respond quickly. If young people don't develop that skill, it's going to be challenging for them to communicate effectively as adults in the future. Without learning those skills, one is likely to be left behind,"  says Professor Bradford Brown, an expert in Educational Psychology.

But Professor Brown says that doesn't mean parents have to get their child a cell phone. "Parents have to look carefully at the maturity level, that should be the deciding factor."

"I'd probably get the track phone where you can call home and the parent's cell and that's it," says Mike Hernandez, the principal at Sherman Middle School in Madison. He doesn't see kids being left behind if they don't have a cell phone. His students aren't even allowed to use them during school. "The bigger concern is we run into the cyberbullying and texts about where to meet up after school, they're just not educationally based."

We checked with some Madison area parents to see if the cell phone they bought their child came with a set of rules. Bill Heintz, a teacher and father of an eighth grade boy, told us "He can contact friends and text as long as his phone is available at all times for us to look at." Tammy adds, "We've always had a strict set of rules. If someone calls and she doesn't know the number, she's told not to answer the phone."

The Center on Media and Child Health says it's really important to have a clear set of rules for your child. It has some tips for parents: Talk about where, when, and how they can use the phone. Teach them not to answer calls or texts from numbers they don't know. You can also consider a child-friendly phone that only does certain things, like calling home or 911. An if you're worried about possible health risks, you may want to limit the amount of time your child spends on the phone.


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