Monday, June 25, 2007

Cell Phones for Kids

Today WSJ's parenting blog The Juggle is discussing whether or not children should have cell phones.

I want to avoid getting my children a cell phone as long as possible.

My students know me as someone who hates cell phones. Why? Because they take students' attention away from my teaching, and it's rude. Students claim they need the phones for "emergencies," but really, how often is there an emergency? Their concept of what constitutes an emergency is inflated.

As the wife of the original poster on The Juggle pointed out, cell phones are seen as ways for people to connect with each other. In this case, a mother found that a cell phone was the most effect means for connecting with her eight year old daughter. I have an eight year old (well, she'll be eight tomorrow), and I'm pretty flabbergasted by this. My daughter and I share time at bedtime, when I read her a story or we just "talk." When we're doing some sort of chore together or playing a game, she'll start talking about things. Part of the problem is that she won't talk when her brother is around, mainly because once she starts talking, he feels the need to interrupt. What is really needed, I think, is one-on-one time for mother and daughter.

Part of me wants to question the use of cell phones to establish connections; it feels like something is lost without face-to-face contact. But who am I to talk? Most of my friends are on the Internet these days (long story for another post).

I think that if people can talk face to face, they should. The internet and cell phones (and that old-fashion technology, the telephone) should probably be reserved for people whom we cannot see face to face. For example, my sisters and I have been using Writeboard (a free web-based program) to connect with each other to discuss my father's health (and also to share little bits of news about ourselves).

A former boss of mine, when discussing the use of computers in education, once said that computers shouldn't replicate processes that already exist. In other words, online chats shouldn't be used to replace in-class discussion of literature unless the use of the computer could add something to the experience (and it could--some introverted people might be more likely to share their ideas if they could type them out first instead of having to jockey for time in a classroom discussion).

Cell phone technologies should be used in this way, as well.

Another issue that concerns me is that the constant connection breeds dependence. One commenter on the Juggle post explained that he could remember several times when he was stranded after a practice or school event, waiting for his ride home. Cell phones, he said, would solve this problem.

Why is it a problem? Yes, I know we fear pedophiles (why now more than ever, I don't know?), but other than that, is it really a problem for a child to have to use his or her own resources to figure out how to get home and/or get a message to his/her parents? While it would certainly be frightening/scary for a child at first, I'm sure that the sense of pride at having faced something scary and overcome it would be amazing for the child's well-being. We want our children to be independent, don't we?

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