Kiddie cellphones

What parent can resist an invisible umbilical cord that can stretch across mountains and through buildings?

Published March 29, 2007 11:43PM (EDT)

Another tale of worry from the annals of affluent parenting issued from the New York Times today. Apparently, cellphones are gaining in the tweener demographic of 8 to 12, and children are beginning to campaign for them at the tender age of 6. Not surprisingly, cellphone companies are innovating to create a new market sector -- with phones ranging from the Firefly ($49.99) to Enfora's TicTalk ($99) -- and parents (or the sort of parents interviewed by the New York Times) are trying to figure out where they fall on this "emotionally charged and value-laden" decision that raises "ticklish questions about safety and status, maturity and materialism."

My 7-year-old daughter (taking after her mother) is too technophobic to carry on a simple phone conversation (not to mention the dialing), so needless to say our family's not ready for this. But it's easy to imagine that all middle-class children will have cellphones in the not terribly distant future. Children currently live in a pre-microwaved state, just as the grown-ups who used to survive without cellphones once did. But that may change, and what's now an excessive gift may someday become the norm, even among younger kids. Perhaps hospital nurses will fit newborns' ears before discharging them. (I'm kidding, but only barely.)

What's interesting about the problem of cellphones is that unlike an iPod or an X-box or a new pair of roller skates, it's not a toy. Any parent who has ever suffered pangs of paranoia vis-à-vis their children's safety (that is, all but the psychopathic and enlightened among us) can imagine a cellphone saving their child's life. So though kids want cellphones for all the frivolous, fun reasons they crave other bright, blinking toys, parents have a stake in ultimately saying yes -- in creating an invisible umbilical cord that can stretch across mountains, through buildings, over oceans. Not only does the phone allow the child to call the parents in a crisis, but the phones are all outfitted with global positioning systems. You can find your children if they are ever lost or stolen or if they run away, which makes me think that after all the children have cellphones (and lose them), the next technology-related parenting debate may detour around the "is it too fancy a toy" conundrum altogether. Verichip, the implantable GPS tracking device used to keep track of pets and livestock, was recently approved by the FDA and is being marketed for people ... which, of course, should make us paranoid for other reasons altogether.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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