Some out-of-town Facebook friends of mine had a conversation recently about the appropriate age for a child to have a mobile phone. So I posted a blog entry at the T-G web site asking for local views on the issue -- and I got plenty of passionate responses.
Much like the two Facebook posters who prompted the discussion, our local commenters fell mostly into two camps.
Camp One believes that there's no need for a child to have a mobile phone until the child is old enough to drive (or be driven around by peers). The phone is in part a safety device which the child could use in case of an emergency and which the parents can call to check on the child's whereabouts.
"I'm in total agreement ... that children shouldn't have a cellphone until they are driving and out due to some sort of work/school function," wrote Boomer455. "We already have enough problems with the youth today without giving them more ammunition."
Jaxspike went even farther:
"Sorry, but a child should not have a cell phone until they are at the driving age at least -- but better yet, when they become an adult. If you can not keep up with your child without the aid of a cell phone then you are lacking quality parenting skills .... Cell phones have become a tool for many parents to become lazy and not be physically involved in their child's life. Also, how many deaths have we seen in the past few years that involved a teenager being in an accident because they were too busy texting or talking on the cell phone instead of watching the road?"
Commenter BlueDoor said that 16 was an appropriate age for a child to have a mobile phone -- and complained that her ex-husband had given their children phones at a younger age.
Camp Two, however, is OK with younger kids having inexpensive, pre-paid mobile phones to talk with their friends.
Some young families no longer have traditional land-line phones, and some of those parents would rather give a child his or her own pre-paid mobile phone than constantly have to hand off their own mobile phone to the child.
"A cell phone is not just a toy for a kid," wrote Springleaves, "it is a great way for you to keep tabs on your kid. I think that the right time is around 12 years of age. Your kids will lose out socially if they do not have cell phones from that age onwards. You can get cheap prepaid phones .... They do not cost much and, because they are prepaid, you cannot get a huge bill at the end of the month."
Some parents use the pre-paid minutes as a form of allowance, rewarding the child for chores, grades or other achievements. By the same token, taking the phone away can be a means of punishment.
"My kids each have one," wrote Knitwit6819. "They are [pre-paid phones] where you put so many pre-paid minutes on it. They have to earn more minutes. I do monitor who they call and text and if they use up all their minutes, too bad, until they earn the [money] for more. And they know they are not to take them to school. If they do, and are caught, no more phone."
"Things have changed a lot," wrote Fiftystrong, "and even the thought of not being [a] text away from contact with their friends sends shock waves through the household...which is real leverage as far as punishments are concerned."
"I most certainly did not ask to be left as a single parent of four," wrote Joel11, "who after many years of being home, keeping up with their lives, etc, suddenly had to become the breadwinner. I am dependent on others for lift clubs, after-school care and so on, and so circumstance has it that I need to be able to contact them or have them contact me if an afternoon activity gets canceled or if there is an emergency of any sort.
"The compromise between my lowly views on cellphones and the need for them resulted in a prepaid ... monthly plan -- they have 200 minutes/month, costing me $15. So no smartphones, web access, et cetera, but my sanity and peace of mind, when I can't be there, covered."
Perhaps the most unique situation -- in the form of a very young child being given a cell phone -- came from this commenter:
"My husband and I will be getting our six year old a cell phone when he graduates kindergarten," wrote Mary. "This may seem too young, but we have a few personal reasons for making this decision.
"Our oldest, the 6-year-old, is autistic (Asperger's Disorder), but is mature enough at this age to probably live alone (he's never alone, just saying). Mine and my husband's cell phones are completely different, so instead of teaching him how to use both of ours, we feel it would be easier for him to have his own, and only learn that one.
"Also, we do not have a land line, and since he is frequently with his grandma, who has health problems, we feel it would be good for him to know how to use one."
Several commenters, like Jaxspike above, mentioned abuses of mobile phone etiquette or safety, such as texting while driving or using a phone in a movie theater. But others responded that such abuses aren't limited to teenagers, and could be dealt with by parents on a case-by-case basis.
Perhaps the last word on the issue comes from user Dianatn:
"The right time for your child to have a cell phone is when the parent decides," she wrote. "It doesn't matter if they are 6 or 16. If it makes the parent more comfortable about being able to get in touch with their child, then whose business is it besides the parent's?"
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.