Thursday, March 18, 2010

Children and Cell Phones

How early is too early to give a child a cell phone? I know in the US the ages seem to be getting younger and younger, but I've realized that Koreans take the cake. Here, starting in Kindergarten, you start seeing students with cell phones. When one of my old kindergartners back at Seongdong got a cell phone, she was the coolest kid in the class, the first to be wirelessly connected to the rest of the world.

In a typical 2nd or 3rd grade class, I would say at least half the students have cell phones, some of them, quite nice phones, better than mine, I'd say. Once you get into 5th and 6th grade classes, most if not all students, will have a cell phone.

It seems, though that these children, being children, haven't learned the proper etiquette with which to use a cell phone. They don't realize that there are appropriate times, and inappropriate times to answer phone calls and make phone calls. I understand this, as they are all still elementary students, but what really floors me is the parents who still haven't realized appropriate phone etiquette. I can not tell you how many times a student has received a phone call and told me it is their mother or father and they HAVE to answer it. Generally, I say no. Call after class is finished. Sometimes these students try to sneak a phone call when I'm not looking or just give me the f* you look and answer it anyway. Sometimes the students actually listen to me, and their parents continue to call them until they answer. Really? What kind of example are you teaching your kids? It's ok to answer your phone in the middle of class? In this technologically advanced society, they should be able to figure out the mysterious TEXT MESSAGE to relay messages without interrupting class.

As I mentioned before, these children often have very nice phones. A few weeks ago, my students were showing me that you can take a photo with your cell phone, then edit it to make the photo look funny, animate it with blinking eyes, add shapes and colors, etc. etc. This same phone also had shortcut hand motions. If you made a triangle shape on the screen with your finger, it would open, say, the phone book, or call a certain person. In short, a clearly, very expensive phone, geared specifically for kids. When does it become too much? Maybe I'm biased. I'm a person who is rather minimalistic.... for someone in this day and age. As long as I have my computer and a functioning cell phone (aka, calls and sends texts) I'm a happy camper. I have an old MP3 player that I got from my cousin when she upgraded, but it only gets used once every 3 months or so. I do have my nifty camera, but I lived with a 2.3 megapixel from high school until last year. I don't see why young children should be given the newest and most exciting technology. If they are anything like I was, as a child, they tend to lose things and abuse them until they are no longer functioning.

Anyway, in short, I don't think elementary schoolers should have cell phones. Or if they do, they should be those emergency style phones that only call 5 numbers and receive calls only from authorized phone numbers. Kids are far too distracted by the technology in their pockets to focus in class.

Anyone else have similar experiences? What's your opinion on giving kids cell phones?


  1. OMG, Min Gi and I just had a discussion about this. I was saying that elementary school is DEFINITELY too young for cell phones because the kid should never be anywhere you don't know. Once the kid can go walk downtown to meet his/her friends, I would loan them one of the parental cell phones. And so on.

    But Min Gi was like "Well what if everyone else in their class has one?" And I was like, "So?" But then I realized being the odd one out in Korea is a social death sentence.

    I still wouldn't let my elementary kid have one. But, if we were living in Korea, I would consider allowing a MATURE and RESPONSIBLE child to get a pay by the minute phone if we were living in an area where they could walk around or take public transportation (like Korea).

  2. The problem is, that, kids don't have any idea of the costs involved in these sort of things. Once their friends start sending them text messages, they'll start sending them back, and all of a sudden they'll have used up all their minutes...

  3. I think cell phones are so much cheaper here, especially if they get the family deal? I'm not sure. I know that I don't like my elementary students playing with their phones in my class. I've actually taken a few phones from students in class. Hopefully they'll soon learn that it's not cool to play with them in English class.

    With the way students are always on the go here, to different hagwons and such, I can see how parents would want their children to have some way for the parents to be able to access them and vice versa. Add that to the competitive nature of Koreans, and it makes sense. If Minji has this phone, then my child should have a better phone, right? LOL...

    Just another reason to love Korea!! :)

  4. Yea, you guys are right. The need to compete with their peers, and their parent's acceptance of this fact leads to a lot of it. It reflects on the parents too, what might other parents say if they don't give their kids a cell phone? Maybe they don't have enough money, or maybe they don't care enough about their kids to give them a cell phone. Moms at home are always competing with one another too...

  5. Time to buy one of those cell phone blockers - I've always dreamed, when I was in Seoul, to own one, and turn it on in the subway... In a class it'd make a lot of sense.