Getting a cell phone is the latest milestone for American 6-year-olds.
A new survey in Child Guide magazine, a resource guide for parents, found that the average American child gets their first cell phone when they're 6 years old.
The survey, which interviewed 2,290 American parents, found that 31 percent of children received a cell phone for security reasons, while 25 percent received one so that children could keep in contact with their family. Twenty percent of parents gave their children cell phones so they could keep up with their friends in school.
The survey doesn’t mention whether a cellphone is also a smartphone, nor does it mention if the cellphones can make calls or if they’re deactivated. Based on the survey participant’s answers about how the phones were purchased for security and contact reasons, one could assume the phones are activated and able to make calls.
With the rise of technology over the past few years and the increased use of cell phones among children, the debate on what age your child should receive a cellphone or smartphone has been a popular one, especially as some have said cell phones create health risks for children.
Children receiving cell phones isn’t surprising news since there’s been increased cell phone use among children and young Americans. A 2011 study from the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center found that about one-fifth of third graders have a cellphone, with one out of every four students having one by fourth grade.
That number rises as youngsters become tweens and tweens become teens. The Pew Research Center reported that 78 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have a cell phone, with 37 percent of them having a smartphone.
Toddlers, too, have been known to use cell phones and screens. Time magazine reported in October of 2013 that more than one-third of Americans children under the age of 2 have used a tablet and other smart devices, too.
This has caused some to question the health risks of using a cell phone at a young age. The Huffington Post’s Rebecca Jackson wrote in 2013 that cell phones can negatively affect a child’s short-term memory since cell phones distract children, whose short-term memories are still growing. This will make children pay less attention to their parents and to their teachers, Jackson wrote.
Cell phones are also believed to stall brain development and pose other health risks, though research is still be done on that topic.
But there are some suggested practices for parents, especially as research continues to determine the effects of cell phone use on children.
WebMD released a report that suggests parents buy their child a basic cellphone that doesn’t have any special features, which will make the phone only necessary for security. It will limit how much the child uses the phone, too, which will shield them from any possible health risks, WebMD reported.
WebMD also suggests that parents set limits for their children on how many texts they can send, calls they can make and time they can use the cellphone during the day.
Ultimately, it's up to the parents to teach their children the best practices for cell phone use, WebMD reported.
“Children aren't born knowing the rules about how to use cell phones respectfully, including not using them to spread rumors, not taking (or sending) photos without people's permission, not sending inappropriate photos or texts, not having personal conversations in public places – and, of course, never communicating with strangers, no matter how they present themselves,” WebMD reported. “It's up to you to teach them.”
Herb Scribner is a writer for Deseret News National. Send him an email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @herbscribner.