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Growing number of children with cellphones adds pressure to purchase

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 8:25 p.m. MDT

Twelve-year-old Teague Anderson shows his new cellphone at his home in Bountiful Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Crystal Riddel's 8-year-old son, Ricky, came home from his second-grade class asking for a cellphone before. After all, his friends all have one, he said.

"It's all about popularity," she said.

But Riddel and her husband have decided to hold off. There just doesn't seem to be a need for a cellphone as Ricky is rarely left alone. So until he is older, probably around junior high or high school when he begins wandering away from the neighborhood, they will wait to get him one, she said.

"I didn't have a cellphone when I was a little girl. I don't understand why he thinks he needs one. There's no reason," said Riddel.

As of 2011, 20 percent of third-grade boys and 18 percent of third-grade girls have a cellphone, according to a study of Massachusetts students. Seventy-five percent of those ages 12 to 17 own cellphones compared to only 45 percent in 2004, according to a 2010 Pew Research Center publication.

More children at a younger age are feeling pressure to get a cellphone as more of their friends own one. And many parents are asking themselves: What is the right age to buy my child a cellphone?

"There is a great deal of pressure from peers to own a cellphone, starting as early as kindergarten," said Perry Aftab, executive director at the online safety and help group WiredSafety.

There are reasons to get a child a cellphone, but because others have one isn't a good one, said Aftab.

"Kids are old enough when their parents think they are old enough. But never because their friends have a cellphone," she said.

She suggests parents worried about their children's friends having cellphones should get together with other parents to discuss it. "The only way to fight peer pressure is to unite," Aftab said.

A cellphone is not a substitute for good parenting, but with mobile technology, parents have at their disposal more tools than ever, said Rob Weisskirch, a professor at California State University, Monterey Bay, who studies the effects of technology on adolescent relationships.

For example, a parent could request a picture to prove their location if the child has a camera phone. A GPS tracker can be added to a phone plan.

Children's phone companies such as Firefly Mobile provide basic phones with built-in parental controls.

Tina Anderson and her husband were against their children having phones before the age of 16, even as their oldest son, Teague, began junior high and asked for one. The year before, he was one of maybe five in his class who didn't have a cellphone.

But soon after school started there was a massive windstorm that knocked out power in Teague's school and he was stuck, unable to call his mom. After that, Anderson decided to get him a basic cellphone for emergencies.

Teague was one of the last of his friends to have a cellphone. Most of his friends use their phones to text one another, he said.

"It works for his needs and for our needs as well. I'm glad we did it," Anderson said. "We do have three younger children and we're curious as to when they'll start asking for phones. Probably even younger than our oldest."

Email: jhigginbottom@desnews.com

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