Cell Phones for Youngsters - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Cell Phones for Youngsters

If you have kids, chances are you've heard the plea: "Can i have a cell phone?"

Millions of teenagers are already wireless. Now, children as young as eight and nine want to dial up, too.

New phones are hitting the market now, made especially for the younger set.

Nine-year-old Jerrod Mathis is a busy kid. Between playing after school and baseball practice, he and his mom like to stay in touch. That's why she got him a cell phone.

"We decided that we really need some tool to keep in contact when we can't all be together." Lee Mathis said.

According to IDC Research, there are 32 million kids aged 5-12 in the United States. 3.9m of them subscribe or otherwise have their own prepaid cell phone. That equates to 12% penetration.

Jerrod isn't alone. Nearly four million kids between the ages of 5 and 12 are carrying cell phones! "We've seen a trend." said technology expert Pat Houston. "The cell phone keeps creeping further and further down the age chain." Houston says eight, nine and 10 year olds are the hottest market, as busy parents try to make sure their kids are safe throughout the day. "It's no surprise that the big handset makers and the big cell phone carriers are going to try to tap into that kind of concern."

One example: Mattel is coming out with the Barbie phone aimed at young girls. "It'll be prepaid." said Houston. "You'll be able to use up 30 minutes before you go over the limit and then you won't be able to use anymore."

And then there's the new Firefly phone. Kids like Jerrod love that it comes with cool features just like a big kid's cell. "I like that you can pick your animation... And your colors for the people that are on your phone."

But it's certainly not your typical cell. No numbered keypad. Instead there's a menu with up to 22 preprogrammed numbers. You can only send and receive calls from the list. "Parents want to know who their kids are calling." said Robin Abrams with Firefly Mobile. "They want to know who's calling their kids."

Abrams says it's 'safety first', with speed dials designated for mom and dad and a 9-1-1 button on the side. "This is intended to be a tool and not a toy."

And with firefly, kids can't dial up huge bills since there's no access to expensive extras like games or text messaging.

Psychologist Dr. Rachna Jain fears kids under twelve aren't ready for any kind of cell phone. "It could be pushing your child to become too grown up too fast. I think that it could be a distraction for them, and I think that they could make decisions that aren't so good thinking that their cell phone is going to protect them."

Makers say the phones are simply added protection for concerned parents.

The Firefly is sold now through Suncom wireless in the southeast and has a contract with Cincinnati Bell, but will be available nationwide online in mid-May. It will be on sale in Target stores in July.

Mattel hopes to launch the Barbie phone in late Spring/early Summer. The kiddie phones can run anywhere from $50-to-$200, depending on how many minutes of talk time you buy. Both are prepaid phones, although Firefly is working with cell companies on traditional service contracts.

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