THE BLOG
11/15/2012 01:02 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2013

Smartphones: The New Gateway Drug

There are lots of posts out there about how old kids should be before they get a cell phone. Even more parents weigh in about smartphones and when those are "necessary" or even reasonable. But I would not have said "Wait until they're 18" until yesterday.

Yesterday I was contacted by a reporter to give an opinion on smoking simulation apps and how effectively they're marketed to children. These are not help-to-quit-smoking apps. Oh no! It turns out (perhaps I've been living in an app-cave?) that there are all kinds of illegal activities that can be simulated -- for free and with no age requirement -- on your child's phone! You don't even have to click a little "I'm-lying-about-my-age-to-make-politicians-and-parents-feel-better" box.

Does it matter? Well, "only" 23% of teens ages 12 - 17 have their own smart phone, so decide for yourself there. Maybe all those kids are super-responsible and can't possibly be swayed by media to try a new, exciting and life-threatening hobby "just once." And it's likely at least some of them have parents who check their apps and history.

But check this. According to Common Sense Media, 52% of children age 8 and younger have access to app-using mobile devices and 11% of them spend at least 45 minutes using them in a typical day.

Even better? A lot of these apps are free! So no email comes in if they're downloaded. But wait, there's more you can do besides "Blow into your phone to smoke this cigarette!" You can have a beer, snort cocaine (they recommend using an old credit card or hotel key card to make it even more realistic), hit a bong, learn to grow marijuana, simulate Russian Roulette with this revolver... and don't get me started on the porn "wallpaper" options.

It's every kid you never wanted yours to hang out with, all in the palm of their hands!

The graphics are brightly colored, often cartoonish, and appeal greatly to the middle school developmental range. It's time to talk to our kids about all the ways the substance corporations are trying to influence kids.

We can't app-proof them, but we'd best start the conversation.