9-year-old Jerrod Mathis is a busy kid. Between playing after school and baseball practice his Mom likes to stay in touch. That's why she got him a cell phone. "We decided that we really need some tools to keep in contact when we can't all be together," says Jerrod's mom Lee Mathis.
Jerrod isn't alone. Nearly 4 million kids between the ages of 5 and 12 are carrying cell phones! "We've seen a trend," says Pat Houston, CNET Technology Expert. "The cell phone keeps creeping further and further down the age chain."
Houston says eight, nine and ten year olds are the hottest market, as busy parents try to make sure their kids are safe throughout the day. "It's no surprise that the big handset makers and the big cell phone carriers are going to try to tap into that kind of concern," adds Houston.
One example: Mattel is coming out with the Barbie phone aimed at young girls. "It'll be prepaid. You'll be able to use up 30 minutes before you go over the limit and then you won't be able to use anymore," says Houston.
And then there's the new Firefly phone. Kids like Jerrod love that it comes with cool features just like a big kid's cell. "I like that you can pick your animation and your colors for the people that are on your phone," says Jerrod holding his cell phone. But it's certainly not your typical cell. There's no numbered keypad. Instead there's a menu with up to 22 pre-programmed numbers. You can only send and receive calls from the list. "Parents want to know who their kids are calling. They want to know who's calling their kids," says Firefly CEO Robin Abrams.
Abrams says it's safety first with speed dials designated for mom and dad and a 911 button on the side. "This is intended to be a tool and not a toy," says Abrams. And with Firefly, kids can't dial up huge bills since there's no access to expensive extras like games or text messaging.
Some of you might be saying my child can barely take care of their toys, now a cell phone? But it's not all fun and games. Some doctors also raise concern fearing kids under 12 aren't ready for any kind of cell phone. "It could be pushing your child to become too grown up too fast," says Psychologist Dr. Rachna Jain. "I think that it could be a distraction for them, and I think that they could make decisions that aren't so good thinking that their cell phone is going to protect them," says Dr. Jain.
"This doesn't take the place of good parenting," rebuts Abrams. Makers say the phones are simply added protection for concerned parents. "Hey mom, I was just wondering if you could come and pick me up now," Jerrod asks his mom on his Firefly mobile phone. He loves his phone, using it every day to call for rides and check in with his working parents. "The benefit is just to never be totally out of touch with our kids," says Mom.
Christine Nelson reporting. firstname.lastname@example.org