Cellphones are a growing fad among children in schools. Melissa Fernandes weighs the pros and cons of this new and growing habit
After owning gaming stations and music systems, techsavvy children are now demanding their own cellphones. Cellphones are no longer considered to be an adult commodity. Some may think they are just another style statement, but children think differently. They have started regarding cellphones not just as cool gadgets, but also as basic necessities! Kevin Menezes, a student of class 9 at Bombay Scottish School says, "It's cool to have a cellphone as you can keep in touch with all your friends and also get cool updates."
As this trend grows, many adults (and children) are asking whether children really need a cellphone and at what age they should be given one. In fact, this question has been debated endlessly. Maria Gonsalves, mother of a 15-year-old says, "I think cellphones provide a sense of security to parents and should be given to children who travel long distances alone for classes or tuitions. I keep a check on my son through his cellphone and that keeps me updated on his whereabouts."
Cellphones not only provide a sense of safety and security, but also help children during emergency situations as they allow them to get in touch with their parents. But do children really use cellphones only during emergency situations? H'vovi Bhagwagar, a child psychologist says, "Cellphones can keep parents informed but, on the other hand, they can also be a source of distraction as children talk continuously over the phone. The safety factor is also at stake when children indiscriminately give out their cellphone numbers to strangers and then get into unnecessary trouble. Sometimes children share unsuitable SMSes and MMSes that can disturb and distract their minds. That apart, research has proven that the electromagnetic waves emitted from cellphones affect the brain cells, resulting in a lack of concentration." Other than this, cellphones can be a major cause of depression. Sometimes, when children don't get a reply from their friends or when harsh messages are forwarded to them, they do get depressed. Physical activities are also ignored as children keep in touch with their friends through the phone and spend more time chatting instead of playing outside. The cost of giving children cellphones is also a major cause for concern as children tend to talk for a long time or download ringtones without realising the costs. This is an addiction that is difficult to get out of.
With cellphones having as many cons as they have pros, what is the right age for children to start owning phones? H’vovi says, "Parents should avoid giving cellphones to children till they are of age or start going to college. Children's demands for phones at an early age are only in keeping with peer pressure and the need to be part of the bigger, older world. Exposure to advertisements influences young minds and hence, children start demanding fancy phones with all sorts of facilities like Internet and bluetooth. This can be very dangerous as parents cannot always keep a check on the information they share with their friends."
No matter what the age of a child who owns a cellphone is, the most important thing is to use the phone responsibly. Chirag Mehta, a class 10 student at Don Bosco High School says, "I know cellphones have many disadvantages and can lead one into great trouble. All one can do to avoid getting into trouble is to use the phone only when required and not otherwise. I own a cellphone and have never got into any trouble. I have also not exceeded costs as my parents keep a thorough check on my bills." Ruchi Mehta, a class 9 student from P G Garodia School adds, "I have a cellphone and use it only when I go for classes, which are far from my house. I don't use it otherwise and keep it in my cupboard. This phone is also used by my dad's friends who come to India on visits but don't have their own SIM card here."
Of course, there are still those children who don't want a cellphone at all. Nichelle Pires, a class 10 student at St Anne's High School says, "I don't have a phone and neither do I want one until I finish school. My parents will not give me one till then. Having a phone at this age is good as you can keep your parents informed about your whereabouts but otherwise it's more of a distraction."
Clearly, a cellphone can be helpful if used correctly. It is up to the parents and their children to think through the pros and cons before purchasing one.
List of precautions parents can consider before gifting their child a cellphone:
- The best option while buying a phone is to buy one without Internet as it can provide access to many things that children shouldn't get involved in.
- Ideally, one should opt for schemes that have fixed usage. Prepaid plans are a better option as children tend to overuse their phones in postpaid schemes. One can also use plans where only incoming messages and calls are allowed.
- Parents should have a copy of their child's contact numbers with them.
- Parents should have open communication with their children about the pros and cons of cellphones and keep them aware of repercussions.
- To avoid addiction, parents should discipline their children about phone usage and confiscate the phone if necessary.
- Phone usage should be restricted. Phones should not be allowed after midnight as they can disrupt children's sleeping routines. Also, since phones are given to children for their safety when they are outside of the home, they should be kept away while children are at home.