Wandering around Las Vegas, Gwen and I happened upon a High School Musical-themed book complete with a little gadget that allows small children (3+) to practice texting. The gadget allows children to press 1, 2, or 3 to send a pre-fabricated message to High School Musical characters, who send pre-fabricated messages back, and so on.
Kids, of course, like to do what they see adults doing. That’s why they like getting play vacuums and lawn mowers. It’s not inherently fun, it’s just fun to copy. So it makes sense that, in a world where adults text, little kids would want to text too.
Just like play vacuums and lawn mowers, however, a toy phone to text on is training children how to be adults or, in this instance, teenage girls; ones who flirt with boys, spend a lot of time socializing on their cell phones, and use text-speak (the book includes a lingo dictionary explaining, for example, that LOL means “Laugh Out Loud” and WAZ UP means “What’s up?”).
Thanks to Jordan G. for help on this one.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Justin — January 6, 2011
Pre-paid cellphone plans are, I think, a much stronger way of selling teenage-hood and adult-hood to tweens and below. It seems to me they are also a stronger "training" method.
I'll leave it up to the experts here to interpret what youth (represented as the girls jumping on the bed) are being trained to do in this ad for pre-paid cellphones.
Jihad Punk XXX — January 6, 2011
Maybe it's just me but if I ever have kids, I won't allow them to own cell phones until they turn 18. You know, because the whole sexting thing and underage racy photos freaks me out :-/
Anyway, i've seen plastic cell phone toys filled with candy (such as jellybeans) that adults can buy for their kids. I've also seen plastic toy laptops that kids love to pretend typing on.
Jessica — January 6, 2011
oh my goodness! I weep for myself, and all other future parents. On the one hand: motivation for kids learning to read sooner! On the other hand: 6 year-olds demanding cell phones because all their friends have them. What madness!
I know you have run a chart in the past about the number of text messages people in different age groups send each month. The numbers for people under 20 frighten me. I can't keep up!
In slightly related news, it freaks me out when my boyfriend's 4 year-old niece (who can't read yet) successfully navigates the WRITTEN menus on the Wii. Creepy technologically-equipped children!
katerina — January 6, 2011
That reminded me of the old Sesame Street phones I think they had when I was a kid or my younger sister or the kids I babysat. You press the button of a picture of Big Bird and hear a recorded message from Big Bird. However, I did not find that when I looked it up. I forget that my mother has been buying my niece, who is 8 and a half, computer programs called "Leapfrog" for a very long time. Here is what I found when I went looking for "sesame street phone":
I think High School Musical might be a little "fast" for a 3-year-old, but the toy featured in this blog article looks a little too simple for a more appropriate 8-year-old.
So I don't know what to make of the whole thing. There's no reason children shouldn't be taught to be adults. The whole reason they are curious and like to copy things adults do is because they are human little young humans! I feel it's far more appropriate to train them of the world than to stunt them, to isolate and glorify their innocence for a very long time. There's no rush, but I have more of a problem when I see their development and curiosity stunted on purpose. I think growing up, it can be shocking to live in a child's world and then suddenly be of age, to have a birthday when everything suddenly changes and brand-new things are expected of you. I don't have a problem with very small kids texting - however, it is to be cautious because at that young age, they will want a real cell phone.
I think they can get into a lot of trouble with one, and also, once your children are talking on the phone to others, you no longer have full control, they are obviously leaving you and branching out, and have things like privacy, secrets.... kids do that anyway. We used to go off together and have secret meetings and do stuff - now kids have to play in the yard with supervision and not leave the yard. Stunted. You're afraid of what they'll get into when you're not watching everything they do, and they're unprepared because you've always been watching them and controlling them and not preparing them for independence. I don't see too much of a problem with this toy, but I think, say, 6 years old, 8... 10? is still too young to have their own cell phone. I think this really reflects my age, that very few of my high school classmates had a personal phone in their bedroom, and most of us had to have personal, possibly embarrassing conversations on a phone in the kitchen or den where anyone could hear, where anyone could listen in on the extension. And yet we could ride our bikes half a mile away to no one's yard by the age of 7 and do whatever we wanted.
Molly W. — January 6, 2011
My daughter just turned three, but she's been fascinated by cell phones since before her first birthday. (I am somewhat bemused by her interest, as I am one of the very few people I know who doesn't actually have a cell phone, though her dad does.)
She doesn't have a cell phone *yet*, but I imagine she'll have one very soon -- the ability to call mom/dad/911 whenever/wherever (nevermind the potential to track her location via the signal) seems like a safety benefit that far outweighs the potential downsides.
They do make simplified cell phones for little kids, with icons for dad and mom (a stick figure and a stick figure in a skirt, surprise, surprise!) so that kids who can't read can still call home when they need to. (See http://www.fireflymobile.com)
Mike — January 6, 2011
nobody actually says WAZ UP
Syd — January 6, 2011
"a toy phone to text on is training children how to be adults or, in this instance, teenage girls; ones who flirt with boys"
I'm pretty skeptical of this claim, since no examples of the messages are actually given. Texting is not something exclusively used by teenager girls to flirt with boys. Two of the four possible recipients of the pre-fabricated texts are girls (who could be recipients of flirting, but you didn't say 'teenage girls; ones who flirt with girls' or 'teenage boys; ones who flirt with girls'). The packaging doesn't seem particularly gendered (though I guess high school musical is somewhat more popular with girls. Then again, I never knew HSM to be popular with toddlers at ALL), and the word 'flirt' isn't anywhere visible on the package. Marketing texting phones to 3 year olds might be interesting to look at from the 'training kids to be adults' perspective, but I also see a lot of age-based and gendered stereotypes in this article. Notably, of the 'teenage girls and their promiscuous sexting! Back in my day!" variety, when in reality, teens and adults of all genders used text messages for any one of an infinite number of reasons.
Kelly — January 7, 2011
Anecdotally, my kids have their own laptops and are allowed on my phone (my first ever mobile, a smartphone, I just got it for Christmas). They text with remarkable proficiency. They're six and eight. My husband also runs a kid-friendly Minecraft server and my daughter plays a MMO called Animal Jam that has a lot of interesting security aspects.
It's super easy to supervise what kids do and say on the internet (if you know tech, but my partner and I do). In our case, our kids know this is an aspect and if/when they ever wanted privacy we would re-evaluate our plan.
As has been alluded to in this thread, kids are faster at learning this stuff than grownups - and in our opinon in the case of MMOs conduct themselves with more justice, self-policing, and less asshattery. It's incredible!