Hot new market for cellphones:
February 23, 2006
Tristan Pasterick of Sammamish
started clamoring for a cellphone in
first grade after admiring his older
cousins sporting snazzy new phones.
Six seemed too young to Tristan's
parents. They waited until last
summer, just before the 8-year-old
entered third grade.
"He wanted a puppy or a sibling,
and he wasn't going to get either of
those, so we went with a cellphone
instead," joked his mother, Rachel
Pasterick. "This was cheaper and
Tristan, now 9, keeps his
cellphone charged and stashed in his
backpack, next to a bit of emergency
cash and some extra pencils.
When the school bell rings,
Tristan flips open his phone as he
walks home with friends or while
waiting for his mom to pick him up.
"It's a way for us to keep in
touch, and for peace of mind — his
and mine," Rachel Pasterick said
Tweens — children from ages 8 to
12 — are the new frontier for the
cellphone industry. In the past
year, a half-dozen companies have
announced products aimed at the
lunchbox set and the parents trying
to keep tabs on them.
Kids, of course, are drawn to the
phones' "cool factor." Children as
young as 6 are packing phones inside
their Hello Kitty and Spiderman
backpacks. Principals of
Seattle-area elementary schools say
this is the first year cellphones
have been noticeable on their
campuses. Many are creating school
policies governing cellphone use,
like those in place at middle and
high schools, where cellphones are
Children's advocates and safety
experts say mobile phones in the
hands of young children raise some
questions: How should parents
monitor a child's phone use? Will a
phone lead to a false sense of
security? Who else might get access
to the child's phone number?
"If your child has a handheld
device that can connect them to the
Internet, you have no control over
that anymore," said Susan Linn,
co-founder of Campaign for a
Commercial-Free Childhood. Parents
"are allowing corporations, to say
nothing of pedophiles, unfettered
access to their kids."
Peace of mind
As the chief scheduler and driver
for a "typical, triple-tasking
family" with three children, Britt
Weber of Normandy Park worried about
getting stuck in traffic while
chauffeuring her children to their
She and her husband decided that
9-year-old Madelyn was ready for a
cellphone this year as third grade
began, and added her phone to the
family's calling plan for $15 a
Their seventh-grade son also has
a cellphone. So far, their
5-year-old son remains cell-less.
Madelyn is allowed to use her
cell only for outgoing calls and in
emergencies after school, Weber
said. It has five numbers programmed
in: Mom, Dad, home, brother and one
"I just felt easier, knowing that
she could call me," Weber said.
"What's my child and my peace of
And it's already come in handy.
Weber once forgot to pick up her
daughter after school.
"She called me and said, 'Mom, I
don't see you here,' but she didn't
panic," Weber said.
Still, Weber said she's gotten
some grief for letting Madelyn go
"All her friends' parents said,
'Why did you get her that? Now I'll
have to,' " Weber said.
The real target for cellphone
companies is kids aged 10 to 16: the
ones "who are going to spend
considerable money" to download
ringtones, graphics and games for
their phones, said Ben Rogers, vice
president of technology research
with GfK NOP Technology, an
international market-research firm.
But by appealing to 6- to
10-year-olds, companies hope to hook
kids on technology early and entice
them to push their parents for
upgrades, Rogers said.
Phones like the Firefly and the
Migo, with limited features and
parental controls, won't appeal to
kids much past the age of 10, he
"I just don't see them agreeing
to carry a phone that can only call
Mom, Dad and the police," he said.
"It's almost a bait-and-switch,"
Rogers said, explaining that
companies pitch the safety message
to parents, who can then expect
their children to soon be clamoring
for a fully loaded phone.
Companies also are experimenting
with advertising by cellphone.
"This will be a way to bypass
parents and talk to kids directly,"
said Gary Ruskin, executive director
of Commercial Alert. The
group is pushing Congress to
investigate the sale and marketing
of mobile phones to young children.
Some law-enforcement officials
like the idea of enabling "instant
check-in" with parents, but they say
cellphones in the hands of young
children raise some safety concerns.
A cellphone with all the latest
features makes a child more
accessible to anyone, said Seattle
Police Sgt. Leanne Shirey, who also
runs a nonprofit education
organization called The Internet and
"If you ... monitor who they talk
to at home," Shirey asked, "why
would you hand them a phone" you
Still, a phone with parental
controls and limited features,
coupled with clear rules about phone
use, could be a good tool for
families, said Michael Chiu,
public-information officer for
Bellevue Police. Chiu said a
cellphone could help by enabling a
child to make a quick call to Mom
before accepting a ride with a
neighbor, for example.
But Chiu said he hopes parents
remember that children still need to
be taught how to be safe, phone or
A way to touch base
Many parents see mobile phones
for kids as a way to "parent on the
go," to extend their oversight and
remotely cover scheduling gaps.
Sally Brady opted to buy her
oldest son, Jack, "the cheapest
phone I could find" and a
pay-as-you-go plan when he entered
middle school in Issaquah this year.
The school district's late-start
schedule on Wednesdays prevents
Brady, a legal secretary in downtown
Seattle, from being there when her
son boards the bus that day.
Now Jack and a friend, each with
a cellphone, head for the bus
together, and Jack sends a text
message to his mom when he's safely
"He thinks he's cool to have it,
and I think it makes him feel better
on Wednesdays," Brady said.
But it's not without headaches.
Occasionally, Jack forgets to text
message from the bus, leading his
mom to call the school in a panic to
make sure he's there.
For the first couple months Jack
had the phone, he received
occasional calls from people
apparently at a nightclub — calls
intended for the person who
previously had Jack's number.
And Jack sometimes forgets to
charge his phone.
"It's one more thing for me to
remember to do," Brady admitted.
Many families say they are
careful to create rules about how
and when their children can use
Teresa Walter of Kirkland has
10-year-old twins who started school
this year with their own cellphones.
The twins know their parents can
see all the calls they make and know
they must abide by school rules to
keep the phones out of sight. They
also know they can't share their
phones with friends, and that
they'll be expected to pay if their
calls push the family over its
monthly allotment of minutes.
"It's really for convenience,"
Whether they're being dropped off
at swim-team practice or missing
home during a sleepover, "I just
want them to know they can touch
base with me anytime."