'Tween' cell market growing

Claudia Buck / McClatchy -Tribune News Service /

Published Oct 12, 2011 at 05:00AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Brandon Gonzales has been carrying his black Pantech cellphone with the slide-out keyboard for two years. Brandon is 12.

And he’s certainly not unusual. Over the last decade, the age of kids packing their first cellphone has been dialing back younger and younger.

This month, as millions of students swarm back to school, it’s estimated that more than 75 percent of all U.S. teens have a cellphone.

And “tweens” ages 9 to 12 may be the fastest-growing cellphone market out there.

“Parents want to be in touch with their kids,” said John Breyault, who authored a new guide on tweens and cellphones for the National Consumers League in Washington, D.C.

There’s plenty of debate over what age kids should get their first cellphone. If you’re contemplating the decision, here are some tips from the National Consumers League:

Before heading to the nearest cellphone store, ask yourself some basic questions: Why does my child need a cellphone? Will it be used mainly for emergencies or keeping in touch with family? Should it be used for games, Internet access, texting?

Discuss the dangers of “sexting” and cyberbullying. Be sure your kids know not to answer calls from unknown numbers and to never share their cell number with people they don’t know. And, while it may sound silly, explain the risks of texting while bicycling.

Sue Watkins, marketing director for a Folsom, Calif., software company, said her two teenagers got cellphones in middle school, when they began walking to school alone. “It was for us to be able to stay in touch and ensure that if they had any issues, they could reach us throughout the day,” said the El Dorado Hills, Calif., resident.

Knowing how distracting cellphones can be, she and her husband set some ground rules: No phones at the dinner table. No accessing the Internet. No texting in bed at night.

Watkins notes, given teens’ devotion to their digital devices, having a cellphone is a privilege that can be yanked, if needed, for disciplinary reasons.

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