Mobile phones for children: Do we want them?

The age where kids get their first mobile phone has dropped to eight. How low does it have to go before somebody raises the alarm?

Eight-year-old kids with mobile phones might sound like a crazy idea, but according to a report carried out last year, that is the average age of a child owning their first mobile phone. The age is expected to drop to five years old this year -- but why are we buying mobile phones for our young children? The answer is peace of mind, according to the report, which was carried out by the Dhaliwalbrown consultancy.

One company that has picked up on the concerns of parents is Disney Mobile. Disney Mobile was set up in the US this June and provides families with mobile phones specifically designed for "tweens, young teens and parents who want to keep an eye on them", according to the Disney Mobile Web site. Unlike standard mobile phones, these handsets feature software that allows parents to limit texts, calls and downloads, restrict phone usage and even locate their children via GPS.

Their latest phone, pictured on PhoneArena, is the Disney D100 (pictured), which features a Mickey Mouse-style keypad and a picture of Winnie the Pooh on the casing -- Disney Mobile seems to be marketing itself as a family solution, aimed at concerned parents, and not directly at children. At the moment Disney Mobile only provides mobile content in the UK, but it may sell mobile phones in the future.

You can already buy similar products in the UK, from companies like EazyTrak. There's no doubt that the service is useful, but by making the phones look like toys means they might well create competition among children for who has the coolest new gadget. This will undoubtedly lead to more children asking their parents to buy them a phone.

So what's the problem? The jury is still out on whether or not mobile phone radiation is harmful to children and Sir William Stewart from the National Radiological Protection Board recommends that children do not use mobile phones for prolonged periods of time.

The other issue is privacy, something that should be respected no matter how old you are. Of course you want to know where your child is at all times, but there are times when not feeling like you're being watched is important. Everyone will remember when they snuck off to the corner shop or park with friends in the knowledge that their parents had no idea about it. It wasn't particularly safe, but then again life isn't, and developing some sense of independence at an early age is important.

Finally, do we really want our children picking up bad mobile habits? Spelling gr8 instead of great and developing RSIs at the age of 14? There's no denying that we live in a dangerous world and that children are overwhelmingly important, but so is learning to deal with life's hardships. Some day your mobile phone will turn off or will lose a signal, but fortunately for you there was a time when you didn't have one so you won't completely freak out. What about the next generation? -AL

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