Does a 4-year-old Need a Cell Phone?

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Amid worries over sexting (sexually-oriented text messages among or to young people who use mobile phones) and the revelation today that one-third of U.S. teens have used cell phones to cheat on tests, many parents face a tough decision of when to get a kid a mobile phone (insert tug, tug, tug on the shirtsleeve visual here).

Meanwhile, mobile phones are being actively marketed to young kids now, with phones that glow and age-themed ring tones, whilst preying on parental fears with the ol' "peace of mind" pitch.

In Britain, a toy-like phone aimed at kids as young as 4 will soon be launched ("The brightly-coloured Firefly handset has just five buttons - including two which call mum and dad directly.")

On the Web site of Firefly, the "mobile phone for mobile kids," the stock photos show kids who look to be about 8 years old. Aimed at the U.S. market, the Firefly site touts its "Pay-As-You-Go rate plans designed to give parents financial control." Any parent who's ever paid the mobile phone bill of a teen knows why that's attractive.

So what's wrong with toddlers having phones?

"We are continually eroding childhood and making children miniature adults," Margaret Morrissey, of the lobby group Parents' Outloud, told the Daily Mail. Indeed, on many fronts these days, modern society is ruining childhood — at least if you buy the argument that a carefree childhood is the aim.

So what do you think?

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In The Water Cooler, Imaginova's Editorial Director Robert Roy Britt looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond. Find more in the archives and on Twitter.