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Cell Phone Etiquette for Your Child

How to Teach Your Child the appropriate usage of a cell phone

"Mom, when can I get a cell phone?" Suddenly low-cost or free cell phones with low monthly services and unlimited long-distance services are saturating the marketplace. Millions of parents and students own cell phones. Many parents purchase add-ons to their cell phone agreements to allow for extra phones and shared minutes with their children.

For most image-conscious children, owning a cell phone is a sign of maturity and a status symbol. For parents, it is a convenient way to monitor their children, especially if they are picking them up from school or extra-curricular activities.

School Policy

It is important to note, however, that most public schools have strict policies regarding cell phones at school. I decided to interview some middle school children in a middle-class community regarding cell phones in school. I found out that some instructors will deduct up to 5 percent of a child's grade for a ringing cell phone in the classroom.

Most public schools are now – or will be – including cell phones in school policies and student handbooks. Less talk time means more academic productivity. There is no place for ring tones and cell phone use in the classroom. The less distraction, the more productive work gets done. A cell-phone-wielding student in a class is a distraction for others. Most schools have cell free zones. Phones may only be used in the parking lots, bus drop offs and parent pick-up locations.

Regardless of school policies, I estimate up to 75 percent of middle school children have their own cell phone. This percentage rises in the high school years – and it can't be just any cell phone, as color, size and ring tones are most important. The smaller the phone, the better, and students are willing to pay extra for "cool" ring tones that can be downloaded off the Internet. These polyphonic ring tones, which today's youth are willing to pay dearly for, are a constant irritation for many, and contribute to today's noise pollution. If cell use for kids is absolutely necessary, it is recommended that they be set on vibrate if that feature is available.

Cell Etiquette

Cell phone etiquette (cell etiquette) is common decency manners that should be observed by all in today's media-driven society. Children should be taught proper cell etiquette if they are allowed to have their own phones. I recommend a 20-foot buffer for cell phone use around others. This rule respects others and keeps your call confidential.

It is rude to interrupt a one-on-one conversation by answering a cell phone. It is even ruder to carry on a discussion with someone on a cell phone in close proximity to others. It is surprising how many American students violate cell phone etiquette in today's media culture. Phones are ringing in classrooms, study halls, assemblies, school concerts and even in quiet libraries. Young drivers are using cell phones on the road. The City of New York will now fine cell abusers $50 if their phones go off during plays, concerts and public performances.

Fines for drivers are being issued in many states. Cell phone use at the wheel is discouraged by driver education courses, and parents should set a strict rule on this. Hands-free options are available. (The importance of headsets will be discussed below.)

New Technologies and Services

Cell phones are now digital cameras. Web sites are available to post photos taken from cell phone cameras. Many children have used cell phones for taking not-so-flattering photos of classmates and posting them online. Students can download images and place them on their cell phones. Many images may not be suitable for public display in schools.

Video games are also becoming increasingly high tech as cell phone technology improves. The Nokia N-Gage phones offer complete multimedia messaging, e-mail, high-graphic gaming, music, radio and Web browsing. Imagine the possibilities for students' attention when this technology exists. Students use text messages to pass notes in class. It is no longer necessary to fold paper notes into triangles as we once did!

Dangers

Most students (95 percent of those surveyed for this article) are unaware of the potential radiation hazards emitted from cell phones. Remember, the smaller the phone, the cooler it is for kids. It is important to note that the smaller the phone, the more power must be transmitted. The more power, the more radiation exposure.

Several countries in Europe and the United Kingdom have issued warnings to parents about over consumption of cell phone minutes and exposure to children. Much is currently being questioned regarding cell phone use and the possibility of cancer. Have you ever placed a transmitting cell phone next to a radio or piece of electronic equipment? It is easy to hear what the radio signal frequency does to the electronics. Cell phones emit powerful radio frequencies, and placing one next to your head may not be the best health decision.

As the market demands smaller and smaller cell phones, the manufacturers must increase the output power of the radiation at the antenna. This means that the smaller cell phones are more of a threat to our health today than the large antenna phones of the past. In my cell phone guide it states in fine print, "Do not hold or let the antenna come in contact with your body during a call." This is impossible to do. How can you avoid letting the cell phone come in contact with you? The reason the manufacturer wrote this is in case a future lawsuit should come to fruition.

Dr. George Carlo, author of Cell Phones: Invisible Hazards in the Wireless Age (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2001), contends that early research by Carlo and a team of researchers has been downplayed by the industry. They sought to discredit him and other scientists who conducted testing on lab rats. His book follows the results and politics behind unanswered questions. The cell phone industry also admits "there is no proof that cell phones are absolutely safe." The best advice for those that must use cell phones is to get a headset. If you can't stop your children from talking on cell phones, at least advise them on the possible dangers.

A headset limits the distance from the transmitting phone and the head. Research by University of Washington professor Dr. Henry Lai shows brain cells are clearly damaged by microwave levels far below the U.S. government's "safety" guidelines. Dr. Lai notes that even tiny doses of radio frequency can cause cumulative damage over time. He warns that public exposure to radiation from wireless transmitters "should be limited to a minimum."

In studies by the Food and Drug Administration in collaboration with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, 209 brain tumor cases indicated that when brain tumors did exist, they were more likely to be on the side of the head where the mobile phone was used. The industry itself admits that available science does not allow them to conclude that cell phone radiation is absolutely safe.

Advise and protect your children and provide information for making informed decisions. Establish strict guidelines regarding cell phones for children under the age of 18. Here is a summary of guidelines parents may wish to follow in regards to cell phone use today:

Guidelines for Cell Phone Use by Children

  • No cell phones to be used during class.
  • Limit cell phone use to lunch, breaks and after school pickup.
  • Cell space rule: No cell phone use within 20 feet of another student.
  • No ringing cell phones or ring tones of any kind at school.
  • Vibrate-only calls in an emergency only – no loud ring tones.
  • Provide a headset for the child.
  • Limit the monthly minutes to a bare minimum.
  • Teach cell etiquette, and respect others.

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