Buying Your Kid a Cellphone? 4 Things to Think About

NEW YORK ( MainStreet)  —  Parents getting ready to send their kids back to school are in the midst of spending plenty of money on pens, pencils, notebooks and some other more surprising “necessities.”

According to the National Retail Federation, more than half of families have electronics on their school supply shopping lists, including computers, MP3 players, tablets and, yes, cellphones.

However, there are certain things parents need to know before outfitting their child with a mobile device. MainStreet talked to experts to put together a checklist for parents to do their due diligence.

Safety first.

Research has found that cellphones can influence brain activity and be hazardous to your long-term health. While some of these studies remain inconclusive, experts generally agree that parents should severely limit the amount of time their kids spend with radio waves next to their heads.

“Children should minimize cellphone use,” Leeann Brown, a spokesperson for the Environmental Working Group, says. “Young brains absorb twice as much radiation as an adult brain.”

As such, Brown recommends that kids rely on texting instead of talking to avoid radiation exposure to the brain. Parents can also limit the possibility of exposure by buying a low-radiation phone, instructing children on how to hold the phone away from their bodies and limiting the amount of time kids have the phone in their possession.

For instance, “there is very little reason for a child to have a cellphone next to them while they are sleeping,” Larry Magid, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, a website that teaches kids and parents about web safety, says. 

Consider parental controls.

Another way of minimizing exposure is to invest in parental controls offered by phone carriers and a few third-party retailers that allow parents to, among other things, limit the times during which a child can place a call, the numbers from which a call can be received and the amount of text messages that can be sent.

“I would recommend strong controls for a very young child who is only being given the phone for emergencies,” says Molly McLaughlin, senior editor of consumer electronics for ConsumerSearch.com, a website that researches products for consumers. “For older children, it’s more about keeping your monthly bill in check.”

McLaughlin says that these services typically do not cost too much to add. AT&T charges $5 a month for its http://www.att.net/smartcontrols-SmartLimitsForWireless  Smart Limits program, which, in addition to the services previously mentioned, lets parents cap the money that can be spent on downloadable purchases and restricts access to inappropriate content.

Review the security risks.

Phones don’t only carry potential health risks. A child can also get into some sticky situations if they use the phone to send not-so-nice messages or, even, scandalous photos. They can also be exposed hacks that could result in their personal information falling into the wrong hands.

“You need to discuss the risks,” Magid says. “If a phone is lost or stolen, a person can look at your content, but they can also use it abuse other people.”

Magid suggests reviewing with your child how to password-protect the phone and voicemail to ward off hackers and thieves. 

Make sure the school allows cellphones.

McLaughlin suggests consulting with your child’s school before purchasing a cellphone that you intend to send with them to class.

“A lot of schools have banned them and you don’t want the phone confiscated,” she says.

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