Cell Phones and 6-Year Olds. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Every parent these days is required to decide when their children are old enough to have a cell phone. Consider this headline from ABC News:

Survey discovers 6-years-old is the average age of kids when they first receive a cell phone

When I saw that headline, it struck me as wrong. Not only wrong for a 6-year old to have a cell phone, but also wrong that over half of 6-year olds already have them. I’m the parent of three, including a 7-year old. I’ve seen a lot of kids in my time, including lately. I spend a lot of time studying kids and technology.

There’s no way the average 7-year old in the U.S. has a cell phone. 10 or 11, maybe, but not 7. I decided to dig in.

6-yr-old-cell-phoneAt least a dozen articles were written in early April (I read many of them) focusing on the finding that 53% of U.S. kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. The statistic was the teaser from a study by Vouchercloud, a “leading coupon brand”. I’m not going to link to their site here, but I went to Vouchercloud’s site and tried to find a copy of the complete survey, or at least a detailed blog post. I found nothing.

The outlets that covered the survey included ABC, Fox and Yahoo as well as a bunch of parenting bloggers and sites. All the articles I saw linked back to Vouchercloud’s website.

Through one of the writers who had covered the survey, I found that she got wind of it via a press release from Vouchercloud’s PR firm, UK-based 10 Yetis. I reached out to an individual at 10 Yetis and asked for a copy of the survey results. What she sent me was a copy of the press release announcing the survey, dated May 2014. 11 months ago.

According to the press release, Vouchercloud surveyed 2,290 U.S. parents (big sample size!) with kids between 11 and 16. The press release contained 5 links to Vouchercloud’s site, but no link to an actual set of survey results.

Again, I reached out to the PR firm and asked for the full survey results. In fact, I wrote the following:

“I thought I’d reach out one more time and ask for a copy of that study, or a link to it.

I don’t think there’s any way that 53% of American kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. I suspect that statistic, and perhaps the whole survey was made up.”

Not surprisingly, to me anyway, I haven’t heard back from them. I don’t expect to.

Lots of people ran with the story, taking the survey at face value. I feel for the mommy bloggers who are on the hunt for relevant content for their audience. Professional journalists who made it a story should have known better.

If parents who read one of the stories came away thinking that it’s normal for a 7-year old to have a phone, or not normal that their 7-year old doesn’t have one, that’s a bad thing.

We’ll change our tune is we see a copy of an actual survey, but we don’t expect that to happen.

As parents, we’re in the business of thinking critically and deciding what’s best for our children. Maybe no parents took these articles to heart, but digital parenting is a difficult enough task without dubious data floating around.




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