Health Experts: What to consider before buying a child a cell phone

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - As we get closer to the holidays, you may be considering your child's Christmas wish list. However, if a cell phone is on that list, health experts say you may want to check it twice.

Pediatricians say it's more important to consider the factors that come with a cell phone instead of the accessories. First, there's no perfect age. "A middle schooler may be very mature, and a high schooler may be very immature," said Dr. Julie Ballance, a clinical pediatrician with the University of South Carolina at Palmetto Health Children's Hospital. "It's not specific to age."

Dr. Ballance is also a mother to three and says many parents may not realize what they're giving their child when they put certain cell phones in their hand. "You have to realize that you're giving them access to the internet," said Dr. Ballance. "[Parents] control the internet access at home, but then they give them a phone and they can see anything."

She says instead of opting for the latest and greatest smart phone that allows access to the internet, consider your options. "Some cell phones, all you can do is call and that may be good for an immature child or a beginning phone."

She says while most elementary school students do not need a cell phone, a phone that only accepts or receives calls may be the best option if they do. "For those kids that may have a chronic illness like diabetes or asthma or seizures, having a cell phone for an elementary school child is helpful," said Dr. Ballance.

Dr. Ballance adds since many families are getting rid of land line phones, many parents are opting for cell phones for children who may be old enough to stay alone. She says if parents decide on a phone that does more than call, they need to keep a close eye on how their children use it. "[Your children] may text all night long," said Ballance. "When you look at phone records you may see texts coming in at 1am, 2am, 3am, and you need to look at the bills and see if they are texting."

She says keeping a close watch on what those messages say is also key. For one, they could be harmful.

"Bullying is everywhere and the problem with bullying with a cell phone is its constant, so they can't get away from it," said Dr. Ballance. Text messages can also be inappropriate. "Somewhere around 30 percent of high school age students have done some sort of sexting or inappropriate texting," added Ballance.

Dr. Ballance says ultimately, educate and communicate with your child about the dangers and responsibilities that come with a phone. She adds make sure you and your child understand your school's policy when it comes to having a cell phone on campus.

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