As with most things related to technology, I find that my perceptions of ‘age appropriate’ can be very dated. My 8-year old knows his way around my Mac better than I do. My 6-year old regularly checks the weather/times around the world on my phone. When I was six I didn’t know what a time zone was. If you asked me about cell phones and kids a couple of years ago I’d have probably said age 12 or 13, but life changes and the reasons to carry a cell phone change. When my teenager heads back to his other family in June, his cell phone will be designated for my younger kids to carry. Why? Because I want them to have a way to contact me easily when we are not together – whether I’ve dropped my son at soccer practice, my daughter is riding bikes with her grandfather, or they are spending the day with their dad. Then the question, what skills do I teach for using the cell phone? I’m assuming they will figure out every function on the phone within hours (and then teach me, I hope), but the most important skill is not so obvious – what to do in an emergency. One of my readers made an excellent observation that much of the time when a child calls 911 from a cell phone the dispatcher may not know where the child is located. Parents and school routinely talk about when to call 911, how to dial 911, but calling from a cell phone can be a little different. Remind your child that they need to tell the dispatcher where they are calling from, and if they don’t know, to stay on the line with the dispatcher so that person can ask questions and try to pinpoint your child’s location. For a great article about teaching your kids about CPR, Tali Orad, founder of http://www.becpr.org, recommends http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&ps=307&cat_id=117&article_set=27852.
Just remember, it’s a critical difference when dialing from a cell phone, and given the attachment most kids have to their cell phones, they are likely to use the cell phone to dial 911. Make sure they know that they have to tell the dispatcher how to find them and to stay on the line until the dispatcher tells them to hang up. You’ve given your child a big responsibility and an important tool to staying safe, make sure they know how to use it properly.