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Is Your Child Ready for a Cell Phone?

Consider the fine print before you let your child go mobile.
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WebMD Feature

No doubt about it: Cell phones are a great way to stay in touch anytime, anywhere. But is your child old enough to have one? It’s a tough call for many parents because it’s not just about age.

You need to know what's involved -- in terms of both the phone and your child's well-being -- and the potential consequences of letting your child have a phone before deciding about adding that second line to your account.-

Benefits

You can't beat the convenience. If your child has a cell phone, you can call or text him to find out where he is and what he's doing and inform him of your own plans. It can make you feel safer just knowing  where your kids are. And in an emergency, a cell phone can be crucial if your child needs to reach you -- or vice versa.

That's partly why many parents are buying their kids cell phones. Twice as many children have cell phones now as in 2004. Most teens -- 85% of those aged 14 to 17 -- have cell phones. So do 69% of 11-14 year olds and 31% of kids aged 8-10, according to a 2010 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

For your teen, having a phone offers the same kind of security it does for you. -- knowing that you’re just a call or text away. Teens also may see having a phone as part of fitting in with their friends. But there are also some potential downsides to consider.

Health Considerations

Radiation

Cell phones work by using radio waves. That's radiation (though it's not like what you'd get from an X-ray). Does that affect health -- especially if children start using phones at a very young age when their brains are still developing?

In 2011, an international study showed no link between cell phone use and brain tumors in adolescents and teens. The researchers pointed out, though, that the people in that study didn't use their phones as much as people do today.

Still, experts say longer studies are needed. Joel Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, says, "It will take several decades to get conclusive evidence on this."

The FDA's web site states that "the scientific evidence does not show a danger to any users of cell phones from radiofrequency energy exposure, including children and teenagers."

It's possible for cell phone users to reduce their exposure by spending less time on the phone or by using a hands-free device or speaker mode when making a call.

Sleep (or Lack Thereof)

If your child has her cell phone with her at bedtime, will she actually go to sleep or will she stay up and text?

Pediatricians are seeing growing evidence that cell phones, especially those that allow kids to text, can disrupt children's sleep patterns. In a recent survey, four out of five cell-owning teens sleep with their phone on or by their beds, and teens who text were 42% more likely than those who don't to keep their device close at night in case they got a text.

Sleep is important for growing kids. You can set some ground rules with a phone curfew to ensure your child gets a good night’s rest.

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