Kindergarten Checklist: Lunch Box, New Shoes and a Cell Phone?

Posted August 11, 2008 by

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OK, get this: the hottest kindergarten accessory is not a backpack, lunchbox, or new pair of sneakers. It’s a cell phone. That’s right — I was talking to Bob Lotter, founder of the mobile phone watchdog company Radar, and he told me that in L.A. at least, many parents are investing in cell phones for their kindergartners. (In case you’re wondering, the buttons on the phone are large and easy to use. Children are only able to call the numbers you program into the phone.)

I can see some advantages for school drop-offs and pick-ups, but otherwise, why in the world would anyone give a five-year-old a cell? (I admit to some personal bias here. It’s hard enough for me to keep track of mine, let alone giving my kindergartner one!) Added to that is the news that came out from a study done this summer by the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Director Ronald B. Herberman warned parents to limit their kids’ cell phone usage. This is because electromagnetic radiation from the phones may cause cancer, and would be especially harmful, he says, to developing brains. (Click on the Cancer Institute link above for practical tips from Herberman on how to limit exposure.) Although his research has not been proven conclusively, it’s still enough of an incentive for me to strictly limit any time my son spends talking on a cell.

(And luckily, he hasn’t asked for one of his own…yet. Although come to think of it, the new winter coat I bought for him last spring on sale does have a cell phone pocket in it. And I thought that was a style detail!)

I’m curious–has anyone out there limited their child’s cell phone use for health or any other reasons, and if so, how did you talk to your child about it?  And if you’ve gotten your young child a cell phone, how has it worked out for your family?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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  1. Melly Report

    I think kindergarten is a bit extreme you have to expect that your child is one day going to ask for one of these things. I held off as long as I could, until his first year of high school, and even then I didn’t let his demands for something flashy and expensive tell me what he should have. I went simple with a basic little LG flip phone from Straight Talk for $30 and it included $30 – found easily at Walmart. I think 1k for a 15 year old is easily enough minutes and I love that with a prepaid company, I have the ease of taking control of his minutes rather than a contract.

  2. Bothered Report

    I am on the fence on whether I am going to get a cell phone for my 5 year old. This is 2009. Its not 1970. The way we were raised is not the way life is now. Having a GPS in your kindergardeners backpack is a good thing. Not a bad . Would I buy a full dialing cell phone. NO. I don’t know if that will ever be needed until teenage years. Why? Giving a child a cell phone now at young ages should be purely used for emergencies. What if your child is approched by someone who is offering them a ride home. Your late picking them up. Children will be kids. They might go. BUT. Having that cell phone allows them to call and ask you. I am a believer in restricted calling for ALL young kids cell phones. It can really help in a emergency. It will teach your child responsability.
    I am tired of hearing “the good ol’ days”. If this technology was around when we were young. Our parents would of got it for us to. Restrict it. Okay. But, give your kid the chance to be safer in this world that is growing to be scarier to live in.

  3. Sheri Report

    I work with middle school age children, and there is a great deal of bullying being done on the cell phone. I don’t believe in giving a child a cell phone on an everyday all day basis, but if you need your child to be able to get a hold of you from a ball game or an outing that is a different story. They can live with out them…. I promise.

  4. Erika Riddick Report

    While we may think there are always “good reasons”for giving a child a cell phone, get real! My mother raised 6 children without the aid of video games, cell phones, blackberries,and all this other crap we have become so dependent on it is totally ridiculous! Make a plan and if you can’t stick to it there ARE ways to communicate without giving a child a cell phone. I draw the line at putting this stuff in kids hands, it is bad enough all the teenagers have it, most of it is unnecessary but we have all been brainwashed into thinking we can’t live without them, not only by our children but our entire society!

  5. Kristine Report

    It seems a lot of people get too hung up on what THEY think is right for everyone, but every situation is different and we all have to remember this. Maybe every kindergartner shouldn’t be sent to school with a cell phone, but I think a few definitely do need them, as Kristi clearly showed us. Also, as Elaine told us, she was actually able to TRACK her child with one of these phones! I have a soon-to-be first grader and soon-to-be preschooler, but I do not find it necessary to send them to school with a phone at this time; however, kudos to you if your kid needs one and you provide it! Technology is NOT the enemy, as many seem to think. If it weren’t for technology, I wouldn’t have had a job all of these years, as my job depends on it! Limiting your kids’ use of technology may be a necessary thing, bit RESTRICTING it’s usage is doing a great disservice to your child. Whether you like it or not, your child’s future DEPENDS on the use of computers, Internet, cell phones, etc. Keeping them from all of this, then pushing them out into a world that thrives on it, will make learning much more difficult and alienate them from their peers. My 18 year old was raised with computers, internet, video games, cell phones, and the like. She is healthy, intelligent, pleasant, sociable, has many friends, and is VERY happy. Just please think about it before you lock the cell phone in the closet…

  6. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    That’s a very interesting point you bring up: using the built-in GPS devices in cell phones to track young kids. I’ve heard about similar devices in GPS systems in cars–you can actually program them to send you text messages or emails if your teen goes outside a stipulated area (say, across state lines or over to the next county). I’m wondering if anyone out there has considered buying this type of technology?

  7. Elaine Trainor Report

    I am sitting on the fence about the cell phone issue. I have 12-year-old and 8-yo boys. My 12yo desperately wants a cell phone and virtually most of his peers at school have one.

    A friend of mine, who is a police officer on disability retirement (she was stabbed in the line of duty) is hyper vigilant about her children, ages 8 and 5, and they’ve had cell phones since PRESCHOOL. She bought the kind with GPS devices, so even if they were just packed in their backpacks, she could still track them if necessary (she is a bit extreme in this view, likely because she used to work in the children/sex crimes/abuse unit in the Bronx). Her decision was for her OWN peace of mind. Interesting, because her oldest “went missing” in Kindergarten…she tracked him down using the GPS device (and also her police badge, which she’d also tucked into his pack). Turns out his bus driver was an illegal who didn’t speak English, got lost, and couldn’t ask for directions. She was able to find her son (missing for 2+ hours) using the cell phone GPS. Now, this is a pretty unusual scenario, but in her case the cell phone was well worth it.

    Thankfully I don’t see evil intent lurking around every shadow…but I think I will be getting a cell phone for my 12-yo so he can call me after school (will be having sports practice) and/or call for a ride if he ever needs one.

    I don’t like any of the posts talking about the “good old days” before TV, cell phones, etc. That sounds just as extreme as my policewoman friend…I’d like to know how their kids get their homework done without using the internet, word processor, etc. Our school district posts homework on their website (a great leap forward for my disorganized son). If we didn’t allow ANY screen time, he wouldn’t be competitive in the classroom. Video games/TV are only allowed on weekends, but come on, people, let’s join the 21st century. If Jesus were here, I bet he’d use any and all technology to teach his children WHERE THEY ARE (just as he did when he came to Earth).

  8. Jane Report

    Dear BJ. I agree that kids often make cell phones, computers, video games, etc. into gods and that these items along with music are use by the enemy to destroy our families thus attempting to destroy everything.

    However, we are Believers too and instead of isolating our kids from the world we are teaching them how to live in it the way that God wants them to. We monitor EVERYTHING they do. Our teenage son has a Facebook page and we have his password and monitor it daily. He and his friends use it to communicate and cutting him off from that really did hinder his relationships so we found a way to compromise. Most of his friends are Christians and freely write about their beliefs which is fantastic. They all have cell phones, they all text way too much. But they also plan and do great things together like Christian concerts, volunteering and just plain old fun things.

    It’s like TV and music. TV is awful.. horrible. There is very little that is decent to watch, but we find it. It’s the same with music.

    In closing, our Youth Pastor keeps in contact with all the kids via cell phones, texting and the internet (facebook).

    So what Satan intends for harm, God can always redirect it for good!

  9. Jane Report

    Accusing parents of being pathetic is not constructive.

    Let be begin by stating that we have no “screen time” during the school week.. at all (if it has a screen, it’s not allowed). We have taught our kids that there are more important things to do with their time and their brains. Screen time on the weekends and during the entire summer is very limited and must be earned.

    We also teach our kids that successful people have big libraries and that unsuccessful people have big TV’s

    What does this have to do with the subject? Nothing other than to give you an idea of what type of parents we are.

    Both our 15 year old and 10 year old have cell phones. Our 10 year old daughter has been begging for one and it has turned out to be a good thing. She is only allowed to call Mom, Dad, her 3 brothers and sister-in-law. That’s it. She has abused it several times but has received natural consequences such as her phone being taken away. It’s a cheapo phone and only costs us an additional $9.99 per month. She pays for that out of her $10 per week allowance. But the most beneficial side to her having the phone is that it gives us a great way to discipline her because she does not want her phone taken it away. It’s definately her currency.

  10. BJ Report

    Kids using cell phones without their Parent(s) being able to monitor usage has already opened up a whole pandora’s box of negative issues, including: kids using phones instead of listening to their teachers and/or doing their homework; kids using phones so they can connect with sex offenders; kids are using phones to schedule drug buying and/or selling get-togethers during lunch hours or after school; kids are using phones to take porno photos of not only themselves but their friends and passing the photos around (including on the internet); auto accidents thanks to unmonitored cell phone usage. These and multitudes of other potential bad things happen with cell phones vs. the few good things, including kids making their phones their lives instead of directly interacting with their parents and/or friends!

    Some of you might thing I’m an old-fashioned Grandma but I thank God we didn’t have cell phones when I was growing up because I remember how wonderful life was before society has become what it is, today! In addition, Satan promotes everything that takes our attention away from God and puts it on other things we make our gods.

  11. Megan Devine, LCPC Report

    Hi Beth – It does sound like a tough situation. It’s true that you can’t control what goes on in your child’s father’s home. Giving your son a cell phone, and encouraging him to use it would violate his father’s rules. It would also continue the “mom versus dad” dynamic, which is ultimately unhelpful for everyone. What you can do is talk with your son about how he can help himself calm down if he feels upset while at his father’s house. You might come up with some exercises, or positive self-talk, he can use if he wants to talk with you, but can’t. For example, you and he could have prayer time together even when you are apart by agreeing to a specific prayer time in advance (say, whenever bedtime is at dad’s house). If he misses you, he could remind himself that he will see you soon. Starting now, you can give your son the tools to deal with stressful situations.

    Co-parenting is tough in the best of circumstances. Even if you can’t be a united parenting team, be careful not to judge or criticize your child’s father in front of your child. You might want to read this article on “the do’s and don’ts of divorce for parents” to get some further support.
    Good luck!

  12. Caroline Report

    I got two free phones with a family plan. We gave them to our 5 and 7 year olds, and I am sorry we did. The children are never without a parent, unless they are at school, so there was no need for them to have phones but we decided to let them use them in the neighborhood. Their friends were envious of their phones and did what they could to get a hold of them. The phones were misplaced several times before finally we haven’t seen them in months. I had to call the phone company to disconnect them and I still pay for them monthly even though we don’t use them. The kids are just too young to be responsible for phones.

  13. Elisabeth Wilkins Report

    Kristi: Thanks for chiming in on the side of parents who choose this option for their kids. All the reasons you mentioned sound, well, reasonable. I can now see how it would make sense for some parents to get their younger kids a cell. Thanks for the input!

  14. Beth Report

    I have a 1st grader who spends 1 week with me, then 1 week with his father. His father does not let him call me AT ALL during the week he’s away from me. He comes back to me upset about this. I have thought about getting him a restricted cell phone. I don’t know if his father would let him use it to call me, and then I think he would “sneak” and call me anyway. I have a lot of personal conflict about this, my son is crying himself to sleep every night because his father won’t say prayers with him & he just wanted to say prayers with his Mom. I raise my children that we don’t ever break, “The BIG 10”, but this is causing huge issues for my son. I have tried to talk to his father about it, but his statement is, “It’s my time with him and I won’t share it with you.” Understand, that when our son wants to call his dad, I let him. I would appreciate some input!!

  15. Kristi Report

    Also, with today’s phone plans, his phone cost $29 to buy and $10 a month on our plan. Most video games and good toys cost more than that.

  16. Kristi Report

    My son turns 8 today and has had a cell phone since kindergarten. And no, I live in a small rural town in Texas, not L.A. My husband and I travel occassionaly and my son only takes it to school when we are out of town. We also send it with him when he goes to neighbor’s houses since most of our neighbors don’t have land lines. He has never lost it and he doesn’t abuse it. However, kids who don’t have cell phones have called 911 from his phone and attempted to call their parents but his phone is restricted. I find it a very nice safety precaution so I don’t HAVE to be with him every moment of his life. Don’t just assume that since a kid has a cell phone that he is contantly calling and texting his friends. Also, don’t assume that there is not a good reason for the cell phone. It is so nice that I can call him from anywhere in the country and he can call me with out having to seek permission.

  17. Judy B. Report

    I think giving young kids high-tech, expensive gadgets that will get lost or broken anyway is a mistake. Kids are too “plugged in” as it is now. Why teach them to use this stuff before they can read and write? Let them be kids and cut the cell phone umbilical cord.



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