Everything Kids

Do Half of All First Graders Really Have Cell Phones?

A new survey of parents says more than 50 percent of six-year-olds have their own cell phones, but is that really true? And if so, why do they need them?

kids on cell phones
Here's a somewhat puzzling statistic: 53 percent of six-year-olds have their own cell phones, according to a survey of 2,290 U.S. parents commissioned by Vouchercloud, a coupon company. That's sounds crazy and not representative of the majority of first graders, right? I see a lot of kids playing games on their parents' phones, but not a lot with their own devices—certainly not half of them. My daughter, a third grader, does have a phone, but it's actually my old cell phone—we just loaded it up with games and cartoons for car rides or long dinners out at restaurants. It doesn't have phone service, so she can't call or text anyone or receive calls or texts.

I can't imagine a scenario where she would need to call anyone from her own phone, yet 31 percent of the parents polled in this survey said they gave their kids cell phones because they wanted to make sure their child could get in touch with them at any time. Where are their kids that that isn't true without them having their own phone? At age six, either your kid is with you, or they are with a caregiver, teacher, or another responsible adult who has your contact info and can reach you. As my daughter is getting older and I'm considering letting her walk to and from school by herself when she's nine or 10—or perhaps to a neighboring friend's house—I am considering turning on her phone service so she can talk to me while she walks and I can make sure she arrives safely. (Though maybe walking and talking on the phone would be distracting while crossing the street. Clearly I need to give this more thought.)

When I do give my daughter a device that can actually be used as a phone, I'll probably try out one of the kid versions that can call only a couple of pre-programmed numbers. Though 25 percent of the parents in the survey said they purchased cell phones to help their child stay in touch with friends and family, that is something I think she should be doing on my cell phone, or perhaps on a home phone, whether a landline or "family cell." Calling Grandma without me knowing isn't such a big deal, but I want to know when she calls a friend, or a friend calls her—and, someday, a boy. I grew up in the 1980s, when my Dad was as likely as I was to answer the phone when a boy called—and I think that breeds a healthy fear in everyone involved. I may even buy an old-school phone with a super-long curly cord just so my daughter can experience trying to stretch it out of earshot. Shouldn't that be a teenage rite of passage?

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Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who honestly misses rotary phones. Dialing felt so purposeful on that clunky machinery with the mesmorizing spin, and hanging up in anger was so much more satisfying. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Digital Devices and Children

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