So Much For No Screen Time: Half Of Kids Have A Cell Phone By Age 6

child with cell phoneBy the time they’re six years old, about half of American kids will have their first cell phone. Take a moment to process that; and know that if you find yourself involuntarily clutching your proverbial pearls, you’re not alone–my metaphorical panties immediately twisted when I came across that news this morning. But after taking a moment to come down from my Luddite self-righteousness (I had to yell “Get off my lawn!” and “Kids these days!” a few times first), I realized six-year-olds with cellular devices are nothing to phone home about.

The survey, conducted by coupon company, was of just over 2,000 American parents with at least one child of 11 to 16 years of age. Besides calculating the average onset of cellular-itis, it also reported that about 96% of the families interviewed had purchased a cell phone for a child. The sample size and lack of discussion of controls involved (socioeconomic status, anyone?) warrant some skepticism; but it probably shouldn’t take a large-scale survey for us to be able to guess that 1.) most kids these days have cell phones, and 2.) they’re getting them at a younger age than any of us did.

The first commercial mobile phones became available to the world the same year I did. By the time I was six years old, they were still approximately the size and weight of a refrigerator, and probably got slightly worse reception thane one, too. But today’s six-year-olds are growing up embedded in a world of technology very different from the world we grew up in. And while there’s a lot of value in unplugging now and again (and again, and again), pretending that things are no different now than they were when you could only get Mickey Mouse Club on the TV by playing with the rabbit-ears for five minutes first is pointless. Putting kids in a tech-free bubble till they’re 13 or 16 doesn’t do them any favors, but teaching them from a young age how to interact responsibly with technology does.

As far as responsible technology use goes, the survey report also doesn’t distinguish between what kind of cell phones kids are being given. There’s a lot of difference between giving a six-year-old a Migo phone that’s only able to call four specific pre-programmed numbers, and giving them an iPhone with a data plan and unfettered access to the My Little Pony erotica-filled internet. A six-year-old doesn’t need a fully-loaded Android and a Facebook account, but the ability to call Grandma and Grandpa to pick her up early from soccer practice is pretty nice. And in the era of the land-line extinction, it’s nice for your kids to be able to call and chat with their school friends without hogging your cell phone, or the home computer.

When they’re older, my kids will probably have something like a Migo, as well as a lot of lessons from their parents about managing cell phone minutes, appropriate and inappropriate times to be messing around on a phone, and taking care of personal property of an expensive variety. But for now, I have to go rescue my iPhone from my one-year-old, as she has stopped taking selfies with it and started using it as a teether instead.

(Image: LDProd / Getty)

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