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Small hands, smart phones

WORTHINGTON -- Eric Murray, the manager of Cellular Only in Worthington, has noticed a rise in parents buying cellphones for children, which he attributes to people getting rid of land lines.

"We see a lot of 8- and 9-year-olds coming in and getting cellphones," Murray said. "What one person might think is too young, another person doesn't think that."

The choice when to buy a child a cellphone should be determined on an individual basis, Murray said.

"If the kid is responsible, then I think it's an OK idea," he added.

"Some parents come in and get them for a 5- or 6-year-old, and I think that's way too young," Murray said. "But I think by 11 and 12, most kids have them."

Worthington resident Scott Gundermann, the father of three children ages 13, 10 and 7, said there are pros and cons to letting children have cell phones.

"My 13-year-old has had a phone for two years," Gundermann said. "At times it's very useful, especially when traveling with sporting events."

He said it allows him to communicate with his daughter easier when not at home.

Cellphones provide an easy way to keep in touch with kids when are involved in multiple activities, Murray agreed.

"There's no excuse not to know where they are and what they are doing," Gundermann said. "It's not a bad thing, but you have to be responsible in how you use it."

Murray said his 16-year-old daughter got a phone when she was 9, because they didn't have a home phone. She was mature enough to have it, and it's worked out well for the family, he said.

"We put restrictions on it, and she followed them very well," Murray said, adding he doesn't think his other daughter, now 9 years old, is ready for a cellphone just yet.

Worthington Middle School fifth-grade teacher Hollie Hibma said cellphones can be a good idea for safety reasons.

If kids are in a situation where they feel uncomfortable, Hibma said it's good to have a cellphone handy.

The decision to buy a child a cellphone should also depend on the amount of activities that child is involved in, Hibma said, noting that her sixth-grade son has yet to get one.

To prevent from becoming a distraction, cellphones at the middle school must be turned off and kept inside lockers, Hibma explained.

Some parents don't realize cellphone privileges can be abused in different ways, such as the child using it more than they should, sharing it with people they shouldn't be and going above the allowed number of texts, Murray said.

One of the main risks with allowing children to have cellphones is cyberbullying, Hibma said, but noted this isn't much of a problem at her school.

"I think the parents are doing a good job monitoring," Hibma said. "It also helps that the kids are more educated on the fact that adults can be shown (cyberbullying) and action can be taken."

While Verizon Wireless doesn't market phones specifically for children, Murray said parental controls can be set on any phone.

Most parents purchase a basic phone to get their kids started, he said. After about 11 or 12 years old, they start getting smart phones.

A basic phone is about $10 more a month, and a smart phone is about $40 more a month, Murray said.

Gundermann's daughter has a smart phone with texting enabled, but no web access. Once she reaches high school, Gundermann said he may reconsider her web access, but for now she uses the home computer.

He pays about $10 a month for the extra line. The schools regulate cellphone use, so his daughter can't use hers until after school.

"I tell my kids they are lucky," Gundermann said. "I didn't get a cellphone until I was in college."

Hibma said cellphones can be an interruption to family time if not controlled. For example, some family members may text each other while in the same house, instead of communicating face to face.

"In my house we don't let our daughter have her phone when it's family time," Murray said. "She's not on her phone day and night."

"The downside to any technology is people in general are losing that personal contact," Hibma said. "Some of those social skills get lost in the shuffle because of cellphones and other technology."

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.