Youth is no barrier to owning a cellphone

Age at which children receive mobile devices is dropping, and that’s changing their habits.

Eleven-year-old Devyn Darmstetter uses her phone while waiting in her dad’s car.
Photo: Tom Reel/treel@express-news.net / © 2011 San Antonio Express-News

Erik Darmstetter’s daughter has a cellphone — she got it when she was 8 years old. He had no problem giving her a BlackBerry as her first phone, as long as he knew where she was and that she was safe. “It was about safety,” said Darmstetter, 46. “There was just too much worry and panic. And being able to stay in touch is priceless.”

A 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project study revealed 75 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 years old own cellphones. The majority of kids — 66 percent — got their first phones before their 14th birthday. While none of the 17-year-olds polled received phones before he or she turned 10, nearly 30 percent of 12-year-olds did.

What pushed Darmstetter to get daughter Devyn, 11, a cellphone is a memory that still gives him chills. He remembers the fear and panic he felt one day when he couldn’t find her. He thought she was at a neighbor’s house playing with a friend, but the kids had wandered to another friend’s house across the street without telling anyone. When he went to check on her, she wasn’t there, and the parents didn’t know where the kids were.

The helplessness he felt was enough to ensure he would always stay connected with her going forward. “It seems like a lot of kids are getting a cellphone as soon as they come out of the womb,” said James Brehm, an industry analyst with Compass Intelligence. “There are so many families where both parents are working and it becomes a convenient, safety factor for their kids.”

Brehm expects kids will continue to adopt technology at younger ages and admitted he’s witnessed kids as young as 5 using iPhones. But too much texting has shown to negatively affect a kid’s grammar, spelling and communication habits, said Jill Squyres, a clinical psychologist. Plus, giving a child a mobile device at a young age could create a basis of expectations that makes them feel entitled to every new gadget that hits the market.

“It’s creating a constant level of connectedness that’s very shallow,” she said. “Getting any depth out of what your child is talking about can be difficult anyway. And when your child speaks text-speak, that’s even harder to do because they’re not used to going into depth about anything.” Still, she advises that parents need to gauge their kid’s maturity level before getting them a cellphone and once they decide to take that step, monitoring how it’s being used is vital.

Posted Oct. 14th by San Antonio Express News here.

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