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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Cellular savvy kids

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Makayla Cartwright, 7, talks to her mom on her Migo phone.
SIKESTON -- Should 7-year-old Makayla Cartwright ever need to talk to her mom or dad on the way to school, she could just pull out her cell phone and be connected with the touch of a button, decorated with a woman for her mom and a man for her Dad.

Makayla's phone - a Migo - was a Christmas present from her parents. And she isn't the only area child with a cell phone. The average age of kids getting cell phones have dropped, and area cell phone providers say it is because children are getting more involved.

"I'd say two or three years ago the average age (of kids getting cell phones) was 16," said Michelle Lawson, a sales representative at esi.comm in Sikeston. "Now it seems that everyone over 8 needs one."

Karen Jones, store owner of Bootheel Wireless, said her 7-year-old daughter "wants one bad." However, she won't get one until next year. "She doesn't roam yet, but probably next year I will feel comfortable with taking her to soccer practice and leaving her."

Makayla's dad, John Henry, a sales associate at Homestead Electronics, said more youth are getting phones because they are becoming more active. "Parents look at it as kids need a phone and they want to get a hold of them at the football game or the dance or practice," he said.

He and his wife got Makayla a phone for just that reason - she is involved in cheerleading, soccer and dance, so it is helpful for her to have a phone in case practice is over early. Makayla wanted a regular phone, but they got her a Migo until she is older and more responsible.

Launched in early December, Migo is a Verizon device designed specifically for children. It followed the Nov. 14 launch of Cingular's Firefly. Targeted for children between 5 and 12, the phones are primarily designed for children to stay in touch with their parents and allow parents to restrict incoming and outgoing calls.

There is no numerical keypad - the phone includes Mom and Dad dialing keys with the picture of a man or a woman, an emergency 911 key and room to program other numbers. "You can program up to 20 more numbers and the parents have complete control because they have to set up a pin code," Jones said. Only the numbers programmed can call that phone, and security options allow incoming calls from anyone or only the programmed numbers, Lawson said.

"Parents love it," Lawson added. The phone does not have voicemail, Internet or text messaging capabilities.

While having a cell phone is advantageous, there are also a few drawbacks. The child has to be responsible enough not to stay on the phone late at night or use so many minutes their bills are huge, Henry said.

Customers can either add the line on a family plan or pay for the minutes in advance.

Until this year, Karen Tucker of Benton, her husband and 13-year-old daughter, Stacey, used TracFones, where they bought the phones and then bought cards to program minutes. However, it was a bit of an inconvenience to buy minutes and program the phones, so they got a family plan with phones for everyone.

"It's just really for her to be able to keep in touch with me," Tucker said. Stacey is involved in her church and school organizations, so the cell phone is a big advantage when she is on a trip.

"That way she can call me and let me know she's on her way back and I don't have to sit at school and wait and wait and wait," Tucker said.

Stacey added it is convenient to have if she stays after school, or wants to leave a school dance early.

Tucker said another reason she got Stacey a phone was in case of an emergency at school. "She would have some way at least to call 911," she said, citing school shootings where students were able to call authorities for help.

Stacey said about half of the students in her seventh grade class at Kelly Middle School have cell phones. She turns the phone off once she gets to school, leaves it in her backpack and doesn't turn it back on until school is out for the day.

"Most of my friends do the same thing," Stacey said.

Seven-year-old Makayla has the same rules. "She can carry it to school, but it has to be off except for emergency purposes," said her mom, Michelle Henry.

Although Firefly and Migo are designed for children up to age 12, those at the higher end of the age group want more advanced phones with other capabilities. "They're wanting it for the camera, they want a flip," said Susan Crowly, manager at Tri-County Wireless. She added youth 11 and older want text messaging capabilities.

Crowly expects the trend of young people getting cell phones to continue. "It's just a hot item and we live in a fast-paced world," she said. "You have to keep up with the times."