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Posted at 3:14 PM ET, 03/19/2010

The Mosquito ring tone: Kids hear it, adults can't

By Valerie Strauss

Friends of my daughter Becca recently held up a cell phone in the air and asked if I heard anything. I didn’t. Another cell phone went up and, again, I didn’t hear anything. I asked why they were trying to make me look like an idiot.

They said they weren’t; they were testing to see if a ring tone they had downloaded worked as advertised: Kids and teens can hear it but adults can’t.

Naturally I thought they were pulling my leg, until I checked, It's true, and so is this: Kids use it to text their friends in school when their phones are supposed to be off, and they use it at night, too, when their parents think they are sleeping but they simply, positively, must reach a friend without delay.

I was, in fact, a little behind the times. Several years ago, a device called the Mosquito was developed in Europe that emitted pulsating sounds at a frequency (of around 17 kilohertz) that would be irritating to kids and teens but not heard by the aging ears of most people over 20 or so.

The original idea was that adults could use the device to disperse congregating teens.

But that concept was turned on its head when somebody decided to use it as a cell phone ring tone. First in Europe and then in the United States, kids everywhere began to use it, sometimes for fun, sometimes when they didn’t want a teacher or parent knowing they were on their phones.

There is now a new twist to the Mosquito tone story: The Culture, Science and Education committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has voted to ban the original Mosquito device, according to the The Register in Britain.

The committee said that the "youth dispersal" devices treat young people "as if they were unwanted birds or pests" and that targeting them "is tantamount to degrading treatment prohibited by the European Convention on Human Rights."

Oh yes, they also said, that more tests were needed to make sure there is no medical harm from the tones emitted by the Mosquito. The full assembly will debate the issue in June.

For the record, Britain’s home secretary, Alan Johnson, has supported the use of the devices:

“There is evidence that shows that such devices can be helpful ... where people feel that a congregation of rowdy young people is adversely affecting their quality of life. ... Of course, there are health and safety aspects and the devices have to be used carefully, but I am afraid I am committed to using any device-or rather, devices that do not involve cruel and unusual punishments, but which bring about the improvement in behavior that we all seek.”

Too late to take back all the downloaded cell phone rings. You can listen for yourself at

I’d be interested in hearing from teachers about whether they have seen kids communicating during class with their cell phones by using this tone. Write in the comments or email me at

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 19, 2010; 3:14 PM ET
Categories:  Student Life  | Tags:  Mosquito ring tone  
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Simple parents take cell phone from child at night. Kid can't cell phone when supposed to be sleeping. YOU ARE SUPPOSED to be the parent. Act like one.
Schools should just ban cell phones from class room, Kids can keep them in their locker. Confiscate any cell phone in class.

Posted by: alterego3 | March 19, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I visited the link, and it I started at the everyone stage and worked my way down, I could hear the 24 year old tones, but after a while it made me sick to my stomach.

I'm with Alterego about taking phones from kids in your home, but as a teacher, I'm not confiscating a $100+ cell phones on my salary, given how letigious people are in the DC Metro area.

Posted by: hatchlaw | March 19, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Kids have been bringing these to school for 2 years. The teachers can't hear them and if someone doesn't tell who has the phone on, how will you know? Schools tell kids to have phones off during the school day, but can have them in their pockets. Just another little problem along with texting. My son says he sees kids texting all the time (6th grade) I am not giving my kids cell phones to take to school.

Posted by: celestun100 | March 19, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

No school will get rid of cell phones in the classroom until they are willing to take them from the students and MAKE the parents come and get them.

Since this will never happen, I am pretty sure that cell phones are going to be a bigger and bigger part of our classroom environment. I know I'm tired of telling kids to put them away about 5 times a day. (only that few because I have them decently trained and they are good kids)

Posted by: Wyrm1 | March 19, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

i'm still only 28 and can still hear it. very disappointing for the students

Posted by: someguy100 | March 19, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

I graduated last spring from a Fairfax county high school. While I did see people texting in class, usually they just kept the phone on silent. These ring tones were not very common. However, there was a student with this ring tone in the audience at an orchestra concert one night; they didn't seem to realize that while adults couldn't hear them, the entire group of performers on stage were also students, and could. VERY annoying.

Posted by: sarahee | March 20, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

It all depends on each person, younger teachers will be more able to hear the ringtone than older ones, do to changes in the persons hearing as they age.

I found another site you can download the ringtones for free from.

Posted by: seraphina2 | March 22, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Kids CAN"T keep their phones--or anything else they want to see again in their lockers until the schools make it clear that any time a locker is broken into and something stolen the school will call in the police to investigate and the victim's parents will prosecute the thief if he/she is caught. I know of a former teacher who had $25 stolen out of her purse--the administration asked her why she carried so much money with her (!$25!) when she knew how often things got stolen.

Actually, one solution to the cell phone problem and teenagers is fairly simple--no parents pay for the kids' cell phones. That would stop a lot of kids from having one, would stop some of them from bringing them to school because they would have to replace them if they were lost or stolen, and the rest would find they could do without a lot of texting if it was going to cost them money. (It would also help if adults set a better example and hung up themselves occasionally!)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | March 22, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

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