Three Things Parents Should Teach Their Children About Cell Phone Safety

Cell phones can play an important role in emergency situations involving children, but only if their parents have taken the time to teach kids what they need to know.

by / June 12, 2008

A third of the 20 million American preteen children between the ages of 8-12 already have a cell phone and that level will jump to nearly half by 2010, according to industry experts. With so many parents using pre-paid and other affordable options to arm their children with cell phones, experts are emphasizing that it's important to make sure that children know how to use those cell phones to be safer this summer.

Nicholas P. Sullivan, author of a March 2008 study based on more than 110,000 interviews with prepaid and other cell phone users (who were asked about emergency/safety use of wireless phones) and the 2007 book "You Can Hear Me Now: How Microloans and Cell Phones Are Connecting the World's Poor to the Global Economy," said: "In a world of split custody arrangements, households in which both parents work, and other factors, the low-cost prepaid phone has made it possible for parents to extend to their children the same kind of 'safety blanket' that they rely on in emergency situations. We know from research that more and more adults are placing emergency calls from cell phones. Given that younger, tech-savvy Americans are even more inclined to rely on wireless phones, it is imperative that parents take the time to make sure children understand how to use the phone to be safe."

"Every day, nearly a quarter of a million emergency calls are placed to 911 from cell phones and we expect to see children making a bigger share of those calls as cell phone use among youths becomes even more prevalent" said David Aylward, director and founder, COMCARE Emergency Response Alliance -- a nonprofit educational and advocacy group of more than 100 organizations representing emergency responders nationwide. "Children need to be taught that the cell phone is a tool, not a toy. It can play an important role in emergency situations involving children, but only if their parents have taken the time to teach kids what they need to know."

Sullivan and Aylward outlined the following three recommendations for enhanced summer safety for children with cell phones:

1. Teach your child to push 911 and then the cell phone's call or send button -- in an emergency. Explain that this is a very serious thing and that placing the call will bring a police officer, firefighter or EMT to the scene. Explain that emergency for 911 means threat to body or life -- afraid you will be hurt. Don't assume that because you know how 911 works that your child also understands. It's also a mistake to assume that a child who knows how to dial 911 on a landline will know how to do the same thing on a cell phone, which requires the extra call or send button stage. Have your child practice this on a cell phone that is turned off.

2. Pre-program your child's cell phone with all important phone numbers -- including your home, your office and related cell phone numbers. Make sure that your child knows how to find these pre-programmed numbers in his or her phone and then how to place a call using a pre-programmed number. Add ICE (in case of emergency) to the key numbers you want responders or others to call if your child is in trouble, e.g. ICE Daddy Cell; ICE Home.

3. Tell children to remain on the line after calling 911, and to be prepared to describe their location as well as they can. While enhanced 911 technologies are supposed to locate wireless 911 callers automatically, sometimes they don't work or may be off by several hundred feet.

It was also noted that the cell phone being turned on should be part of what is required when a child is away from your home. Test this from time to time. Do not accept the excuse from your child that a cell phone was turned off when you tried to reach him or her. Buy a spare charger for your child's phone and put the charger in his or her backpack. Make sure that your child understands the need to keep the cell phone charged and turned on when he or she is away from the house.