One in five kids have their own cell phone by the time they are 8 years old, according to Nielsen's latest survey, "A Pocket Guide to Social Media and Kids." And guess what? The kids love using their phones to socialize.
Among the 10-year-olds surveyed, 50% have their own cell phone, and that jumps to over three-quarters by the time they are 12. The average age that kids get their own cell phone has also pushed downwards—it was 9.7 years in 2009, and 10.1 years in the second quarter of 2008, but there's obviously a yearning to own them much before this age as the average age of borrowing one is now 8 years old—but I think Nielsen should re-check those numbers, because my toddler wants to borrow my iPhone all the time.
To a generation of parents who were raised on brick phones, these figures may seem surprising. They really shouldn't be though—the mobile phone is such a fantastically useful tool that it is bound to be used by everyone, no matter what their age. In fact, you can argue it's changing how our society works.
But what on earth are kids using these devices for? The answers to that are actually slightly more predictable. The average 13 to 17 year old, for example, sends over 2,000 SMS messages per month, and for anyone who's either got a child or has watched how they interact with cell phones and friends, this is absolutely no surprise at all. The same goes for how they use the mobile Internet:
While you're busy checking the weather and your tanking stock portfolio, your kids are looking for the latest movies and music releases, playing games, and using social networks. The cell phone, in other words, is way more of a communications and entertainment hub for younger people than older people. Which makes sense—kids spend more time socializing, even when all they have is a rotary dial phone with a curly cord.
Parents are wary of the new technology, of course, and particularly afraid of how much their kids cell phone habits may end up costing them. Nearly 60% of parents of cell phone-owing kids have forbidden downloads of games, ringtones videos and so on—the extra items that often incur a charge. And parents, it's only going to get worse. The children in this survey are most likely owners of dumphones, the cheapest handsets on the market. But the trend in cell phone design is clearly toward smartphones, which will inevitably mean that kids end up using them too. And the greater capability of these phones means that they'll be even more central to kid's lives than phones already are. But don't panic about the inevitable, just accept it.