To her parents’ amusement, Hannah Stacks, a third grader in Rye, N.Y., started asking for her own cellphone at age 6. To their consternation, she never stopped. Last fall, after a psychologist suggested tracking her behavior, Hannah, at the sprightly age of 8, got her phone as a reward for not being mean to her little sister for 30 days.
“I was so torn because, of course, I wanted her to stop beating on Kate,” said Hannah’s mother, Kim O’Connor, a clinical social worker. “But I also thought, at the end of 30 days, what will I have done?”
After securing a foothold in the teenage market, cellphones are quickly emerging as the must-have techno-toy among elementary-school society. Companies are sating the appetite — and expanding demand — by offering special phones for children like the bright blue Firefly, which features only five keys, including ones with icons for speed-dialing a parent, and allows users to call a maximum of 22 numbers.
Industry analysts say the ‘tween market, defined as 8- to 12-year-olds, represents one of the major growth opportunities for the wireless industry. Some 6.6 million of the 20 million American children in that age range had cellphones by the end of 2006, according to an analysis by the Yankee Group, a technology consulting firm in Boston, which projects there will be 10.5 million preteen cellphone users by 2010.
The number of 8-year-olds with phones, Yankee Group estimates, more than doubled to 506,000 over the past four years while the number of 9-year-olds jumped to 1.25 million from 501,000.