Cell Phones For Kindergartners

Cellphone makers want their wares to become regular fixtures on back to school shopping lists. Several companies are making brightly colored cellphones that are designed to fit snugly in a small child’s hand; the phones are paired with special plans designed to convince parents that handing their five-year-old a cellphone is a responsible decision:

From BusinessWeek:

Disney’s calling plans, which are far more elaborate than competing services, start at $25 a month for 200 minutes for an individual child. Contracts run two years. The “call control” feature lets a parent preselect, by the day and time, when the child can make or receive calls. That means you can disable the phone during school hours, although you can select a few “always-on” numbers that can be dialed in an emergency. The “family monitor” feature lets parents preset how many text messages or downloads the child is allowed per month.

Other phones, such as Modeci’s TicTalk, look more like toys. The silver-gray oval-shaped handset ($99) replaces the standard keypad with a scrolling wheel to control a pull-down menu of phone numbers. TicTalk’s service features are stripped-down compared with Disney’s but still offer parental controls. Parents can prepay for a bucket of minutes–$100 for 400 minutes, for instance–with no contract. Unused minutes expire after 90 days.

Even more toylike is Firefly Mobile’s new $50 glowPhone, expected to reach shelves in mid-September. Available in black or pink and designed for kids as young as 5, the glowPhone has no keypad. Instead, the rectangular unit has a simple spread of five large buttons, including one marked with a figure in a dress that can be set to dial Mom and a corresponding key for Dad. Like TicTalk’s, Firefly’s service doesn’t require a contract. Calls will run as low as 10 cents a minute, with a 35 cents daily access charge.

We can see the text messages now: omg, didu c k8z killr lunchbx lol.

Mom, Let’s Talk [BusinessWeek]

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  1. Wormfather says:

    @5 I wasnt allowed to answer to use the phone. Parents had a fear of me calling china…well, I did, but that’s not the point.

  2. OnceWasCool says:

    Great, another lead paint china poison train item marketing kids.

  3. IC18 says:

    I grew up without a phone in the house period. I am sure my kids can go without a cell phone until their teens.

  4. bohemian says:

    Some of these are not totally bad. The ones that only allow kids to call four preloaded numbers and 911 but have no other features not so bad. Some have a tracking device so you can locate rogue kids. If your both at work and have a latchkey kid or some other similar situation where kids are on their own for part of the day, not bad.
    Our school district is horrible about informing people when they close school in the middle of the day. The schools are also limiting use of the office phone by students.

  5. bohemian says:

    wormfather,
    I called Peru.

  6. Skyoodpov says:

    I don’t see a downside to giving a phone to kids, if the phone is implemented properly. Verizon offers (or at least used to) a phone with one emergency button, and 4 pre-programmed numbers. I would think for Mom, Dad, Mom at work, Dad at work etc… Its not like the kid can call their friends and go crazy with it. It also has GPS tracking built into it, so you know where your kid is at all times.

    I can see it being a benefit to the elderly suffering from dementia as well. Just one big button to mash and call for help.

    I am surprised that this post sounds so negative about the phone. It seems like one of the less frivolous uses of a phone to me.

  7. Skyoodpov says:

    @bohemian:

    Beat me to it you smug son of a…

    :)

  8. bluegus32 says:

    @Skyoodpov: Children at that age have a tendency to misplace things. Usually not a good idea to hand them something that you want them to remain in possession of.

  9. bombaxstar says:

    I didn`t get a cell phone until I was like…15? =[

  10. Starfury says:

    My 9 yr old daughter wants a cell phone.

    Not happening.

  11. ExVee says:

    Great. More and more kids 7-10 are proving to lack basic spelling and reading skills, but we’re going to give them and younger kids cellphones so they can text each other and reinforce abysmal “writing” practices that are going to set things back even further. Good thinking, Disney!

    At least the other featured attempts eliminate the text message potential, but I still don’t particularly agree with giving five year olds cell phones in the first place.

  12. Clobberella says:

    @bombaxstar: Poor baby.
    @ExVee: Totally agreed. It seems like the only reason a parent would want their five-year-old to have a phone in the first place is because they are completely paranoid and must know where their precious pumpkin is every second of every day or else they’re being kidnapped or eaten by wildebeasts or something. In that case, why not microchip? It only cost twenty bucks to do it for my cat! ;)

  13. QuirkyRachel says:

    You know, I’ve been wanting to raise my children to be so completely lost in their own world, that they’ll only be able to make friends through technology by the time they reach puberty. Now I know how!

  14. lilyHaze says:

    @bombaxstar: Hey, I didn’t get a phone until I was in college and got to use the family car my last semester. Even then it was a prepaid one that I paid for myself.

    I’m still not understanding why kids need phones. We were fine without when we were kids. Call each other by landline. Go to each other’s houses and actually talk to each other..

  15. bluesunburn says:

    @bohemian:
    When living in Boston, my two year old brother called a liquor store in Arkansas.

  16. mopar_man says:

    My kids are never getting a phone until they actually need one (when they start driving). I never got one until I was 18. I still rarely use it. Like Wormfather, I wasn’t allowed to answer or use the phone until I was older (can’t remember the exact age). I can’t stand calling somebody’s house and their 5-year-old answers.

  17. ArtDonovansDrunkenLovechild says:

    AS I said on here before, I used to work for a nonexistant cell phone company. When we first started selling “kid” phones I was a bit shocked, as I didnt see a reason for them. After talking to parents though I saw thier logic.

    Kids have more after school activities then ever. This often means that kids need to call parents to pick them up. Pay phones have been pulled out of the schools and public parks due to drug deals and lack of use.

    Its no longer as safe for kids to walk home in some areas. 15 years ago my folks would have thought nothing of me walking home from middle or high school. My neighbor now rightly wont let her kids walk home from school as the area isnt as safe as it was.

    I think a phone with limited features and dial options is great for a child. If used right it can also teach responsibility.

  18. wring says:

    oh god my ex bought my kid one of these. she’s not allowed to bring it to school so she has it when I’m with her going out or when we’re at home, where we have a landline. utterly pointless.

  19. erica.blog says:

    Any phone my kids get will be one of the limited-dialing ones, until they’re 16 (or, have a job that makes enough cash to afford a real phone plus put aside some for savings). I can see a lot of benefit to them being able to quickly get in touch with me if there are problems, and I can recall a lot of situations when I was growing up where it would have saved a lot of headaches (for me, parents, teachers, and so on) to have such a method of communication.

    It’s not about being paranoid about knowing where they are or what they’re doing at all times, although I’m sure some parents do it for those reasons. It’s about wanting a way for my kids to find help if they need it. Up to them to use it.

  20. wring says:

    @bombaxstar: I didn’t get a cellphone till I was 20!

  21. anams0184 says:

    i think its a good idea….the kid just has to be responsible enough to have one. i got a cell phone when i was 12 and i know i’ve had relatives in asia that have gotten them as young as 6. its not that uncommon anymore. its a smart thing especially with the ones that have the tracking device.

  22. IndyJaws says:

    We bought our 9-year-old daughter a Firefly last year. We liked the idea of having pre-programmed numbers to limit who she could call. We especially liked the no contract requirement. Unfortunately, it wasn’t used much and the minutes expire after 90 days. If unused much longer, the number is terminated and you’ll have to pay a reactivation fee to turn back on. I guess the good thing is that we found out relatively inexpensively that she truly didn’t need one, rather than being on the hook for a contract.

  23. Skyoodpov says:

    @bluegus32:

    True.

    The verizon one had a big loop at the top. I would imagine karabiner-ing it to their backpack would work well.

  24. Youthier says:

    A five year old shouldn’t be outside of trusted adult supervision long enough to need a cell phone.

    When I turned 16, my mom made me keep her bag phone in my car for emergencies. This worked perfectly because it was so uncool and hideous that I only used it when I was in an emergency. I got a real cellphone when I was resposible enough to pay the bill (18).

    Unfortunately, my parents’ skills diminished a little after me. My brother got a cellphone at 14 because he kept “forgetting” to call my parents when he went somewhere. He lost/destroyed 5 during his high school career.

  25. There are services that aim a little older, too. Two day ago, I in the
    cell phone aisle at Best Buy (looking at phones so I could make a
    recommendation for a phoneless acquaintance) and discovered “Kajeet,”
    which claims to be the “first pay-as-you-go cell phone service created
    just for tweens.”

    I thought this was strange. Two days later, I still think this is strange.

  26. Hey, I just looked at the slide show in that article — one of those Disney phones is a limited edition with a picture of Steamboat Willie
    on it! What the hell kind of 5-year old wants a “Steamboat Willie”
    phone? In fact, what the hell kind fo 5-year old even knows what
    “Steamboat Willie” is?

    Are we sure this isn’t just another Disney scam to make Disney memorabilia addicts buy more unnecessary junk?

  27. nardo218 says:

    I’ve worked in an elementary school, and these were common. The ones I saw the most were the five button ones, “mom”, “dad”, “fire”, “police.” Parents are paranoid about their kids walking to and from school and want them to be safe. They can’t call their friends or use them during school, so I don’t see what the problem is. The school I worked out didn’t let the kids even have them out of their schoolbags during school hours. (Teenagers might be sneaky about htis, but little kids, not so much.)

  28. a_m_m_b says:

    @ArtDonovansDrunkenLovechild: exactly. we added our 10yr old son to my ex’s sprint bill with a basic phone. a real one not some kiddy phone. he pays for any customization out of his allowance.

    we are all on the go with work, school, doctor appointments, visitation, daycare (who he’s with after school depends on what day it is/gramma, grampa, mom or dad) chess & band that we have to be able to reach each other at least by text.

    he’s pretty responsible for his age & has not had any issues taking care of it.

  29. Trai_Dep says:

    People, people. It’s a myth that the streets are less safe today than before. Check the stats.

    And if your kid is the 1:125,000,000* that’s accosted** (or worse), odds are better than 90%*** that the miscreant will be family or someone the child already knows. In short, it’s safer for the kid to have a phone that has 5 total strangers’ numbers on it.

    * Okay, that number’s made up. Lazy. My bad.

    ** But by the gods, you know damn well that that one kid will get blanket, 24/7, on-every-channel local TV coverage. In 8 languages. Until draconian, nonsensical, ineffective laws are passed in “their” name.

    *** But this one is, shockingly, conservative.

  30. ExVee says:

    Well, here’s the thing. In my view, any kid under a certain age and/or maturity level (we’ll start with eleven as an evaluatory age) does not need to be without some manner of parental or otherwise responsible adult supervision anyplace they go that is not their own home. After school activites are a good example of why a child may need his or her own phone, but it’s also a good example of a situation where there should be an adult around who would have the responsibility of making sure the children are able to get in touch with their parent and/or delivering them home themselves. It should not be until the age where a parent feels that their child is mature and responsible enough to be independent outside of the home environment that they should consider getting said child a cell phone. In either case, a six to ten year old certainly is not in a position that they should need a cell phone. Again, this is my own opinion of things. I did not get a phone until I was 22, and started working outside of the family business. Before that, there was no need for me to have one, despite that I would on occasion think it’d be fun to have.

    My sister’s two kids have cell phones. One just turned seven, and the other is eight. My sister is wholly opposed to the idea of either of them having cell phones, but it happened anyway because her mother-in-law is damn well nuts and won’t listen to anybody. Even so, they don’t ever use them. They don’t have anybody to talk to, and they’re never anyplace away from one of their parents that there’s not an adult with either a cell or a wired phone to be used. My nephew doesn’t even want to talk on the phone nine times out of ten, so what’s the point? The GPS idea is good, but when it’s going to really count, it won’t be any good. If someone grabs a kid, the first thing that’ll get tossed is the cell phone, regardless of if it has a tracking device or not. That’s only basic logic. Or sense, anyway. I like the idea of giving one’s children those dog and cat tracking implants, except of course you’d get various groups throwing fits, just like if the government started requiring babies to be fingerprinted at birth to be kept on record. That’s really not the point.

    I personally don’t see any honest, practical need for a child too young to be without adult supervision to have their own cell phone, whether or not it has limited abilities. My girlfriend’s boy turns twelve in November, and he’s only just now gotten a cell phone because one of his friends gave it to him. He’s gonna have to pay for his minutes out of his own money, and it’s kinda pointless. He’s in school with his friends during the day, and he’s either at home or football practice the rest of the time. The only reason to use the cell phone is if he doesn’t want his mom to hear what he’s talking about, in which case there’s a whole other problem to contend with, isn’t there? The funny thing is, I remember hearing my parents and other adults they were around having very similar discussions about school kids having pagers when I was younger. Doesn’t it make you wonder what the next generation’s debate will be over?

  31. Trai_Dep says:

    @ExVee: you know, if there were more sensible parents out there like you, I don’t think these kiddy cellies would ever stand a chance. :D

  32. bossco says:

    @bombaxstar: I didn’t get a cellphone until I was 32! We use to carry loose change and learned how to use a payphone to call home after school.

  33. SaraAB87 says:

    Hmm.. these phones are OK if they can only dial the phone numbers you program into them, like Mom and Dad’s phone number. These phones are only being used for safety purposes. Its when you give a kid the full-flegded cell phone with all the features including text messaging that it becomes a problem. It is true that most schools will not allow the kid to make a call on office phones or other phones in the school so this may just be necessary depending on your situation.

    These phones are also UGLY, face it they look like kid phones/toys. I can’t imagine a kid wanting to walk around with this to show off, because it looks just like a kids toy. In fact they would probably be embarrassed to be carrying it.

    Again, kids pull the purse strings in the house, if these phones are marketed heavily enough to parents as a must-have safety device back-to-school item for their children, they will sell like hotcakes!

  34. CSR says:

    I work for a cell phone company. Please, if you feel you *must* get your kid a cell phone, get one that is limited (like the Verizon one that has been mentioned) or make sure that you have the ability to download games, music, etc *BLOCKED*.

    I constantly get calls from parents who get their nine year olds a phone and then don’t supervise what they do with the phone at all…until the first phone bill rolls in. Once I had a parent shrieking at me because junior decided to download over $400 in games. Said he shouldn’t have to pay it because his kid was a minor (a ten year old, if memory serves me correctly).

    What I wanted to say was this, “Sir, my company didn’t give that phone to a minor. *You* did.”.

    So please don’t just get your kid a cell phone. They can rack up an insane amount of charges in a shorter period of time than you probably realize.

  35. floofy says:

    I got my 5 yr old a prepay phn. Before you start thinking I’m crazy (i am but not for that) it is because he was spending some afternoons with his father who was beating up his girlfriend, getting the cops called on him at my son’s school for cursing out a crossing guard, and basically was not so nice to my son. I did it so that if any of these things happened, he could call someone since his dad doesn’t have a house phone. Didn’t matter anyway, as his dad took his last phone, broke it in half, and slammed it against the wall. So much for putting my mind at ease…

  36. floofy says:

    @CSR: btw, CSR, I work for a cell phone company too. Sucks, doesn’t it?

  37. Only because of the problems I had in school where I wasn’t allowed to contact my parents even in emergencies because the school was afraid of getting into trouble, would I consider this…maybe not for a 5 year old, but a 9 year old perhaps.

    My big issue with Firefly is the buttons, the woman with a dress and the male figure. I would never wear a dress, and I don’t want my kids to associate that image with Mom. Also, what if the kid has two daddies? Or mommies? Does Firefly have changeable buttons, like the old Kyocera phones did, so you can match the buttons to your child’s reality? Or is this a driven attempt to “normalize” kids?

    And yes, I’m being a paranoid, liberal hippie. Bite me.

  38. Charles Duffy says:

    @mopar_man: Depends on how responsible of a five-year-old we’re talking about. One of my friends was single when her children were that age; they managed incoming household calls effectively, fixed their own snacks, washed the dishes (which were kept in a below-counter-line cabinet for easy access), and otherwise contributed to the household in a manner which most folks don’t expect of four-to-five-year-olds.

    Aforementioned kids have had cell phones for some time, and have a history of using them effectively and responsibly. That said, most parents don’t teach their children as much responsibility at so early an age.

  39. palaste says:

    @Skyoodpov: I agree. My father asked me to buy his father a cellphone. I bought the simplest model available, but it was too difficult for him to use, so he stopped using it. A cellphone that had only one button that dialled my father would be much better for him.

  40. Buckler says:

    Giving young kids cell phones is a bad idea. As other have said, they get lost or misplaced (or stolen), they encourage less face-to-face time with peers, and they can be abused; even the ones that have the “call mom”, etc. buttons.

    As an example, one youth program I worked with simply didn’t allow cell phones to be used by the kids, for the simple reason that it bypassed the control of communications into and out of the facility. We made it clear to all that any child needing to contact their parents could use the office phone, and likewise any parent calling in would have their child located and brought to the phone upon request.

    One tweenager was having a bad day and decided to do something about it; she sneaked her cell into the bathroom, called mom, and described in lurid detail the many many ways in which we were physically and emotionally abusing her (not true, of course). Mom went ballistic and it turned into a nightmare scenario for everyone involved. If she had been standing at the desk at the office phone, this would never have happened.

    I would suggest that, if your child must have a phone, give him or her a powered-but-deactivated phone. Any cell phone is required to call 911 no matter what. If the kid has an emergency, they’re covered. In my experience, most kids are saavy enough to locate a phone in less-than-emergency conditions otherwise.

  41. Mary says:

    Once, I was at an awards assembly at a middle school. In the middle of the awards, a cell phone went off. Some punk 7th grader picked it up, and started yammering.

    His teacher was about four seats down and did nothing, because from what I hear parent’s are so paranoid now that they must have their children tagged and tracked at all times.

    I got a cell phone when I was 17, because I was off to college and would be driving on a particularly dangerous stretch of interstate on a regular basis. It wasn’t until MUCH later that I started using it for anything besides just keeping it in my car, because minutes were so hard to come by back then (Oh, the olden days of the late 90’s).

    I did a lot of afterschool activities. I was in color guard, academic teams, I volunteered, I would stay after to work on projects, I would go to friend’s houses.

    I can remember ONE occasion where a phone would have been handy, and there were three adults there, but none of them had phones. We unexpectedly got back early from a trip and my mom wasn’t due for an hour. So the teachers waited with me, and I read a book.

    Two weeks later, they installed an outdoor phone at the school that could only dial local numbers and 911. Problem solved!

    Some kids are responsible enough, many aren’t. If they ever for any reason think it’s okay to have the phone ON during school? They’re not ready.

  42. LionelEHutz says:

    Dumbest idea ever. A 5-year old with a cell phone. Riiiiiight. Well, at least they didn’t shove these things into boxes of Cocoa Puffs. Yet.

  43. CSR says:

    Floofy–Wow! I sure hope that your kid has limited, supervised time with his dad now! He doesn’t sound like he needs to be around other people at all, much less small children.

    And yes, working for a cell phone company can suck at times. The one I work for pays well and has great benefits, so I can’t complain there. But the joys of constantly dealing with people that are *already* mad by the time they get you on the phone–bliss!

    It has it’s amusing moments though. Like the woman who was screaming because she paid for ringtones, and doesn’t hear music when she calls her landline number.It took a while for her to understand that it’s only available on her cell phone. Or the woman who–when I asked why she was ending service on one of her lines–went on for half an hour about how it was her soon to be ex-husband’s line and she wasn’t going to pay for him to be able to talk to “that tramp”. She came up with names for the ex and “the tramp” that would have made my dad blush, and he was in the service for 20 years.

    My current favorite is the guy who got to talking about how much he loved his Blackberry. He said, “If Darth Vader had a cell phone, this is the one he’d pick!”

    Just imagining Darth Vader doing commercials for Blackberry is enough to put a smile on my face.

  44. jrdnjstn78 says:

    My ex bought our son his first cellphone when our son was about 8. I hated it! I coldn’t see why he needed a cellphone. Anyways my son had his cell at school one day in his backpack and the stupid thing started ringing. He didn’t know how to put it on vibrate and he didn’t htink of flipping it onpen and then closing it (remember he’s 8). So the teacher took it away and let me know what happened. I had a talk with his dad.
    My son is now 11 and has a new cellphone, from the good old ex of course. I still see no point in him having a cellphone. I didn’t get one until I was 28 and I really don’t use it. As long as my ex wants to pay the bill, then that’s fine with me. I could care less.

    I also thought that newer phones are all equipped with GPS. I had read that somewhere but don’t remember where. I was checking out my son’s cellphone and yes his does have GPS. I doubt the ex even knows that.

  45. Blueskylaw says:

    When I have kids, they are going to be responsible smokers and drinkers because I’m going to start them off when they are 5 years old and make sure they smoke and drink for at least 2 years. A thumbprint will suffice for a signature.
    Damn cell phone companies and their 2 year contracts and targeting towards babies who are just beginning to read, write and talk.