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Cell phone targets tweeners

Phone from Firefly Mobile, designed to help reduce parental angst, limits calls to numbers that parents program with a PIN. Photo: Firefly phone for kids

In the hands of a preteen, a cell phone can be a double-edged sword.

It can give parents a sense of security because the child is never out of reach. But it can also cause anxiety because they do not know what else the child is doing with it--burning up the family's minutes, perhaps.

The Firefly, a new phone from Firefly Mobile, is designed reduce such parental angst. Aimed at children age 8 to 12, it is a voice-only phone that gives parents control over how their child uses it.

The Firefly, which weighs about two ounces and is about the size of a small calculator, has only five keys. Parents enter a PIN to program as many as 22 phone numbers. Calling can be limited to those numbers, which the child chooses from a list (plus speed-dial keys for Mom, Dad and 911). The phone includes 12 ring tones, and the liquid-crystal display can be customized with different animations and background colors.

The phone is currently offered through two regional carriers, SunCom and Cincinnati Bell. But beginning next month, it will be available nationally through for $100, including 30 minutes of prepaid calling. Additional minutes will cost 25 cents. By July, the phone will be available in Target stores.