Look who's talking!

Just what we need -- cellphones for kids!

By Hillary Frey

Published December 22, 2005 1:51PM (EST)

The only thing that cracks me up more than a little kid wearing sunglasses is a little kid -- especially in a stroller -- chatting away on a fake cellphone. (Or, watching one Broadsheet contributor's ridiculously cute little flame-haired boy blabbering into a real cellphone -- power off, of course -- conducting his own toddler business while his mom and her friends have a used-clothing swap.) But, hello -- it's funny because, whether they know it or not, those little kids are mocking the adults around them. They show us how ridiculous we look glued to our phones, oblivious to the world around us, chatting sometimes about work, but just as often about nothing much at all.

But I'm sorry, there is nothing amusing about a little kid with his or her own, real, operating cellphone -- even if it's specially designed for a younger crowd. Sadly, my friends, the time to confront this phenomenon is here. The New York Times has a report today about three new phones for the elementary-school set. The good news: They will only call certain people, and don't access the Web, e-mail or any of that. The bad news: Well, it's a cellphone for kids. Phone obsession didn't used to set in until adolescence. Do we really need to get kids started earlier? And really, how long do you think a 7-year-old can keep track of a piece of plastic that is barely bigger than his or her own hand?

This is not to mention the fact that that the two most user-friendly of these phones have an emergency feature that would allow kids, in one touch, to dial 911. That's good news, right? I'm not sure. It's possible that the kinds of kids who would get these phones are too well behaved to take up crank calling as an extracurricular activity. But can you imagine a bigger temptation? "Don't push that red button, Cindy!" I know what I would have done at age 6, because I did. Warned for years not to dial the operator, I went on a spree with my friend Kari, admonishing the voice on the other end to "Stop calling my friend a bozo." Immature, yes. But hey, I was a kid, and the phone was like a toy to me until I was about 10. Which is just as it should be.

Hillary Frey

Hillary Frey is the Books editor at Salon.

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