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Parents are buying children phones at much younger ages
Some adults wait for a 'reason' to buy iPhones for their teenagers
Parents seem to be purchasing their children cellphones and iPhones at much younger ages, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.


A 2013 national survey of 12- to 17-year-olds and their parents shows:

  • 78 percent of teens between 12 and 17 years old have a cell phone.
  • 37 percent of all teens who have smartphones, up from just 23 percent in 2011.
  • 23 percent of teens have a tablet computer.
  • 74 percent say they access the Internet on cellphones, tablets, and other mobile devices at least occasionally.
  • 55 percent older teen girls who are smartphone owners say they use the Internet mostly from their phone.

Source: Pew Research Center at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society

Two 11-year-old girls sit in the lunchroom at C.W. Davis Middle School, drinking out of milk cartons and discussing pictures on the iPhone app, Instagram.

Both girls are among the many children today who have smartphones at a young age.

The sight is an average one and growing. In 2013, nearly 78 percent of children between the ages of 12-17 had a cellphone, and more than 47 percent of those phones were smartphones, according to Pew Research Center at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

The center conducted a national survey, which showed the percentage of teens with a smartphone jumping 14 percent in two years. According to the report, the number of young people with smartphones continues to increase “substantially,” and mobile access to the Internet is inescapable.

A mother of two, Lisa Hayes witnessed her daughter Molly’s first friend receive a cellphone for her birthday when she was only 8 or 9.

“It was very interesting, how young I’d see these kids that have cellphones,” she said.

Some parents, though, are choosing not to give their children phones at such an early age. They are in the minority.

“My husband and I, our rule or stance on cellphones for our girls is first of all that there needs to be a necessity for it,” said Hayes, mother to Molly, ninth-grader at Johnson High School, and Ellie, seventh-grader at World Language Academy.

Kim Wiley, mother to West Jackson seventh-grader Ben, agreed.

“My husband and I are pretty old-fashioned about stuff like that,” Wiley said. “We’re not the ones who keep up with the latest technology and we don’t feel like he needs it.”

Only a necessity

Many parents give their child a cellphone when they see a necessity, convenience or enough maturity in their child.

Wiley, who works as the bookkeeper at Gainesville Middle School, said she sees a majority of students in the middle school with cellphones. Her son got his first cellphone when he was 11, but now he has an iPod so he can iMessage his parents when necessary.

“Last year, when he went to middle school we got him a basic flip phone,” Wiley said. “All he could do was text and call. He lost that so he did not get another, but he has the iPod so he can communicate with us.”

Wiley said she and her husband may revisit the decision next year, when Ben goes into the eighth grade.

Hayes said her family eliminated its landline about two years ago and decided to strictly use her and her husband’s cellphones. She wanted her daughters to have a phone when they were home alone. Therefore, Hayes’ daughter Molly got her first cellphone at age 13.

“It was a smartphone, but it was free,” Hayes said. “That was the only reason she got a smartphone, because it was free with our upgrade. It wasn’t the newest iPhone or Galaxy or anything like that.”

But the biggest factor in Hayes’ decision to allow her daughter to have a cellphone was Molly’s responsibility and maturity.

“For us, whether it’s a cellphone, driving, dating, any of those things, how much they show the responsibility that they are ready for that, that’s really more an issue than an age for us,” she said. “It really wasn’t that 13 was the magic number that Molly got her phone.”

Hayes noted both of her daughters — Molly, 15, and Ellie, 12 — are some of the last in their friend groups to get cellphones.

She said the majority of Ellie’s friends have had cellphones for a year or more. Because Ellie doesn’t have a phone, her friends will text her on her mother’s cellphone.

Reasons for cellphone

University of North Georgia sociology professor David Broad said parents give their children cellphones for several reasons. One is referred to as “the helicopter parent.”

“The parent who wants to be in constant contact with their kids,” he said. “This, of course, interferes with the kids’ ability to develop independence.”

Another motive might simply be parents placating, or caving to the pressures of giving their children what they want.

“Kids have always been under a great deal of commercial pressure,” Broad said. “The commercials during their cartoons on Saturday morning have shaped their thinking, ‘I must have this cereal. It is the cereal I must have.’”

The smartphone also is the ultimate toy for children today, something parents would be wise to keep in mind.

“Behind that is the same old story,” Broad said. “This is the way things are sold. This is primarily a commercial thing. Many young people interpret it as the way they interact: ‘I must have this. I’m not part of society if I do not.’ But the motives of the people putting these out there are not as pure.

“They are just selling stuff.”

Lessons lost

Some parents might wonder what’s wrong with giving their child a cellphone or smartphone.

According to sociologists and neuroscientists, having a smartphone could interfere with a child’s development.

Broad said smartphones don’t affect the way children interact with their peers. Instead, it affects the way children interact with adults.

“I’m concerned that young people are not getting the benefit of what I would call a variety of adult role models as a result,” Broad said. “They regard the Internet as their primary source of information, so they’re not getting some of the important — sometimes subtle — but important cues they get from interacting with adults.”

A child who turns to the Internet with a question, instead of a parent or role model, is losing an important lesson.

“What things are significant in the world, what kind of things have validity and what has worth — those are things they can only learn from adults,” he said.

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