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Life on the cellular level
When should we get our son his first mobile phone?

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Perhaps you can help us. We're two parents who are trying to decide when to get our son a cell phone. He's now 10 years old, which still seems a little young, but he's been clamoring for one, and he insists that all his friends have them. We found that hard to believe at first, but of the few parents we've spoken to, over half have indeed gotten cell phones for their kids. We're the first to admit that getting our son one would make our lives a lot more convenient. He's always having to call us from somewhere to come pick him up. And it would be nice to be able to check up on him more often.

But we're not sure he's up to the responsibility of having his own phone. He's still at that age where he easily misplaces things. And we suspect that all he really wants to do is gab with his friends. So, maybe not right now, but the time is definitely coming. And we were wondering when you think that time will arrive. 12? 14? 21?

Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad: The French have a phrase that I will now share with you, complete with cedilla and circumflex, so that you're fooled into thinking I actually speak French. Here it is: Plus a change, plus c'est la même. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Why, I can remember, as a young lad of 10, begging my parents for a set of walkie-talkies so I could gab with my friends. I even tried to persuade them how practical it would be. If I was, say, hanging out in the backyard and my mother needed me to come and clean my room, all she had to do was pick up her transmitter and say, "Starship Enterprise to Captain Kirk, can you read me?" Then I would make crackling noises and say, "This is Captain Kirk speaking. The signal is weak. Repeat: The signal is weak." She would then say, "Hey, it's me, get in here and clean your room." And by that time I'd be halfway across town.

So you see, Mom and Dad, this kind of thing has been going on for years, if not millennia. Whenever I hear about teachers freaking out because their students are text-messaging each other instead of hanging on the teacher's every word, I want to laugh. Back in the Stone Age, we used to text-message like nobody's business. It's just that we used pen and paper and had to physically hand the notes to each other, which meant we ran a much higher risk of having the note confiscated and read aloud to everybody in class. This was especially embarrassing when the note in question was largely about the teacher who was now reading it aloud. (Sorry about that, Mr. Smalley, but how was I supposed to know your hairy forehead was due to a rare condition called cutaneous porphyria?) But the fact is, it was all pretty harmless. And I suspect that the average text-message is pretty harmless as well.

Then again, technology marches on, and even I'll admit that there's something different about using a hand-held mirror to look up a girl's skirt than downloading onto the Internet a picture, surreptitiously taken with a cell phone, of the same forbidden territory. With the ability to take pictures, record video, play music and provide Internet access, cell phones have become veritable media centers. It's a wonder anybody ever uses them to, you know, call up a friend and gab. But I'm avoiding your question, Mom and Dad, as you must have figured out by now. Because, to tell you the truth, I have no idea when you should buy your son his first cell phone. Therefore, I've decided to turn this one over to the experts.

Parents, let's hear from you.

For Mr. Smalley's cell phone number, write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, and 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR E-MAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.

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