One marketing research firm recently estimated that 54 percent of 8- to-12-year olds would own cell phones by 2009, or double the rate in 2006.
The first study, led by Byington, was small yet seems to be the first of its kind.
Seventy-seven children aged 10 to 12 were set up in a virtual-reality environment which simulated a street with traffic coming from both directions. Children stood on a platform (the "curb"). When they stepped down from the curb, an avatar crossed the virtual street in their place.
Children practiced the exercise six times while talking on a cell phone and six times while not talking on a cell phone.
"The children who were on the cell phone and were distracted during their crossing were significantly more likely to get hit by a car in the virtual environment," Byington reported. "They were getting hit or almost getting hit at least [once], while the kids that weren't on the cell phone didn't get hit [at all]."
Parents can take away a lesson here, too, Schaechter said.
"The change has to be with the parent," she added. "Parents need to consider the risk before they buy the young child a cell phone, and parents need to lay down rules and clear consequences for cell phone use, which includes not using it when crossing the street or not on sidewalks. The research provides an opportunity to teach children responsible behavior before they get behind the wheel of a car."
The second study surveyed 77 children and their parents about cell phone use.
Investigators found no gender differences in cell phone use, although black children who had phones tended to use them more than their white counterparts. Older children tended to use phones more than younger ones. Cell phone use was not affected by the family's
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