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Child Caring

Cell phone for a 5-year-old? Tell me you're joking

My son is five years old. i would like to get him a cell phone to only call his sisters and grandparents and myself.

From: A parent (no location given)

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Dear Parent,

So are you looking for confirmation that this is a suitable gift for a 5-year-old? You've come to the wrong place. I can't think of any reason why a child this young needs a cell phone. In fact, I've interviewed plenty of parents in recent years who regret giving a cell phone to their middle-school kids because it's so difficult to impose rules of about their use. Not only that, but I've had some students at Lasell College (where I teach journalism) tell me that in hindsight, they wish their parents hadn't given in to their demands for cell phones when they were young because it became a kind of social pressure for them.

Giving a cell phone to a child this young serves only one purpose: it gives them bragging rights. Ick. Do you really want him learning that his self-esteem is tied to gadgets?

In a column a few years ago, child development specialist Diane Levin told me that giving elementary-age children a cellphone can interfere with healthy development. "Most of the time, parents say, `This will help keep you safe.' That backfires. It can make the world seem too scary," she said...Children under 8 "expect grown-ups to keep them safe. The idea that an electronic object is an adequate substitute is . . . confusing."

And here's fair warning: If you give him a cell phone now, when the only purpose it can serve is as a status symbol, you'll have no one to blame but yourself when he's -- oh, pick any age -- and throws a tantrum because he doesn't have the newest gadget.

Parents, do you regret having given a young child his/her first cell? What is a good age? How do you monitor use?