No, Kiddy Cell Phone 'Teddyfone' Isn't From the Onion or SNL

A cell phone designed for small children is just a marketing ploy.

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At first blush, it sounds like a parody in The Onion, or maybe a sketch from Saturday Night Live, which has already shown a brilliantly funny bit on thong diapers for kids who don't want that extra bulk in their stretchy pants. But no, the Teddyfone is real.

The phone, which is made to look like teddy bear, is meant for children fours years old and up, the Washington Post's "On Parenting" blogger, Janice D'Arcy, explains. The idea is that even very young children might need to reach their parents in an emergency, and might as well get used to what the seller describes as a modern-day necessity. [Check out the new U.S. News Weekly iPad app]

Cell phones are not a necessity; they're a convenience. They're an often very useful convenience. But like so many items in that category, they are being used, or more accurately, overused in a manner that has detrimental social effects.

First, the makers of the Teddyfone are hardly concerned about kindergarteners' safety. They're selling a product, and as we have seen, especially since 9-11, an effective way to sell products is through fear. Cellphones, panic rooms, even SUVs—all were marketed at least in part by scaring people into believing that something terrible will happen if they don't possess the items many of us lacked decades ago (yet miraculously survived anyway). And if a small child is using a Teddyfone, we have a bigger problem: what's a little kid doing running around without any adult supervision? But more likely, the Teddyfone is the electronic equivalent of crack cocaine—get the kid trained early to believe that he or she cannot function without a cell phone, and surely that child will "develop" into a teenager who communicates by constantly texting "friends" (even those in the same room), or maybe by bullying or countering bullying on the Internet. Eventually, we'll have a full-grown adult who is incapable of sitting down to a restaurant dinner with someone without setting the BlackBerry on the table, as though it's a respirator for a pneumonia victim.

This has little to do with parenting, and everything to do with marketing. It's a toy kindergarteners can do without.

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