Many parents choosing to let kids go wireless

Spencer Sahli keeps trying to convince his mom that 12-year-olds need cell phones. An emergency could happen, the West Fargo, N.D., seventh-grader said at the dining room table as he again presented his case.

Spencer Sahli keeps trying to convince his mom that 12-year-olds need cell phones. An emergency could happen, the West Fargo, N.D., seventh-grader said at the dining room table as he again presented his case.

"That's a good reason to have one," he said in a rational voice.

With dreams of working at Microsoft one day, Spencer also wants to "fiddle around" with technology as much as he can.

Then comes the line that doesn't go far with his mother:

"I just want to have one basically because everybody else has one."


A new report by the Nielsen Co. shows Spencer isn't far off. One in three "tweens" -- kids between ages 8 and 12 -- own a cell phone, the report says.

As cell phones have become a part of everyday life for more and more adults, it stands to reason that kids also want one.

Advances in technology and the explosion of the industry have made phones less of a luxury item and more of a convenience, a 2006 Education World article says.

This is particularly so for working parents trying to keep track of children.

The article also pointed to the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks as reasons why parents want to be able to contact their children.

Meanwhile, kids see their older siblings or friends with cell phones and think they need one, said Roger Entner, a senior vice president at IAG Research.

That's the case for Renate Marquette's family in Moorhead. Her younger son, Alex, is 11 and put a cell phone on his wish list for Christmas.

"I think it's because his (older) brother has one, and other kids his age have one. It's kind of a peer pressure thing. I'm not getting him one, I know that," she said.


Peer pressure and parents wanting to appease their children are reasons why kids as young as 6 and 7 are getting cell phones, said Entner, a wireless industry expert whose company has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

"It's trickling lower and lower," he said. "It's largely: Where do parents draw the line?"

For the Sahli family, eighth grade sounds soon enough for Spencer to get a phone.

"He doesn't go anywhere. He's not in sports where he needs to be picked up at the end of the night," Amy Sahli said. "They just think it's free. Kids don't understand it costs money."

So what is a good age for kids to get a cell phone?

When two cell phone companies were asked, neither gave a specific age.

Verizon Wireless and Alltel representatives said it's up to parents to decide.

"We really put a lot of emphasis on the parent determining that based on the responsibility that they think the child can handle," said Rob Block, an Alltel retail sales manager in Fargo, N.D.


Sales employees try to identify the reasons why parents want to get a child a cell phone. They can then provide advice about what type of phone to purchase, he said.

"Really, it's about the safety, security, the convenience and if a child can handle the product and be responsible with it," Block said.

Parents should talk with their children about cell phones and set clear expectations for how the phone will be used, said Karen Smith, a Verizon Wireless public relations manager based in Plymouth.

Verizon and Alltel said only customers age 18 or older are allowed to sign up for service. Both companies offer products that allow parents to track where their children are through their cell phones.

For Angela Delage, getting cell phones for her boys was a matter of convenience.

She would "wait and wait and wait" for them to get done with school activities.

"I just thought, 'This is ridiculous. It's time to get them phones,'" said Delage, who recently moved her family from Nevada to West Fargo.

So Trevor Brossart, now 15, and Tanner Brossart, now 14, each received cell phones when they were in sixth grade. By then, most of their classmates already had them, they said.


So why are cell phones so cool for kids?

"Mostly because they don't have to share a home phone with their parents, and they can use it whenever they want," Trevor said. It's also fun to call friends, play games and send text messages, Tanner added. So far, their 7-year-old sister Brooke hasn't shown much interest in having her own phone. "I'm sure it won't be long, though," her mother said.

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