When should I give my child a mobile phone?
My daughter was 11 when I got her a mobile phone. It was the term just before she left primary school. She had started to walk to and from school alone (it’s at the end of our road) and she was a very mature and sensible child. She had asked plenty before but I pointed out that since I took her to school, picked her up, and she was never really alone who was she going to call? She chatted with all her friends in school and most of them lived within walking distance of our house. Playdates where still being arranged by parents!
That was 7 years ago. Phones were simple creatures then and cheap mobile data was just a dream. Her first phone didn’t even have a camera and playing games, how was that even possible on such a small screen! So I wasn’t too concerned about her getting into trouble owning a phone. I capped the call and text plan so she couldn’t go over her limit and we set the ground rules as to exactly what would happen if she even came close to her limits. A plus side actually was having a brand new punishment – losing phone privileges for 24 whole hours!
If I had to make the same decision with today’s technology then I would have to consider much more carefully. The fact alone that just about every phone has a built-in camera is a worry. I hear friends’ kids pestering from a very young age for a phone. One friend’s daughter is just 9 and demanding a phone because all her friends have one (just one in reality). Her parents have said a very firm ‘No!’ not
until she goes to high school.
I back them 100%.
Cyberbullying is on the rise. Any form of bullying via the internet or using mobile phones is classed as Cyberbullying. In the UK 65% of 12-20-year-olds reported experiencing cyberbullying. Nine percent of 12-20-year-olds report experiencing cyberbullying every day of their life. (Statistics courtesy of Ditchthelabel.org)
It is so easy for a younger child to get into trouble with a mobile phone. It’s easy enough for teens, but how much worse for an 8-year-old to be pressured into taking and sending inappropriate images of themselves, being a victim of cyberbullying or taking part in cyberbullying.
How can we, as parents, effectively monitor that?
Educating our children is great but peer pressure can be so much stronger. I hear 8-year-olds discussing Geordie Shore and Towie as normal life. They chat about sex with no real understanding what sex actually is. Do we really want to give them access to a world we can’t control at such a young age?
We can’t wrap them in cotton wool but we have a duty to protect their minds until they are mature enough to deal with the thoughts and ideas portrayed in so-called ‘reality’ shows like Ex on the Beach (and yes I’ve heard them discuss this one too). Texting and instant messaging gives them a vehicle to have conversations you can’t hear; secret conversations. That doesn’t mean they will though, it depends on the child.
There are safeguards you can add to your phone but your child probably knows more about how to circumvent those than you do. We had regular talks with our daughter about what was and wasn’t appropriate. You should talk to your teens about mobile devices often. Chat about what they use their phones for, do they understand what cyberbullying is, have they witnessed cyberbullying and the one I found most useful – how would you feel if you were the one experiencing the bullying.
I asked my now 18-year-old daughter if our friend’s 9-year-old daughter should have a phone. She said ‘No!’ too. Giving your child a mobile phone involves one hell of a lot of trust between you and your child. This is one thing you won’t be able to monitor 100%. A tracker will let you know where they are but you still won’t know what they are doing.
Every child is different.
There are some kids that go to high school that probably shouldn’t be trusted with a phone. There will be some kids, older than their years, who are mature enough at 10. Games consoles and tablet devices are the new babysitters for some kids. It’s tough enough to lock those down so we protect our kids effectively – it can be much harder to lock the phone down.
Let me leave you with this thought. If push comes to shove does your child really NEED a mobile phone?
Travelling alone to and from school meant I felt more comfortable knowing my daughter had a phone to contact me if she needed to. It’s a great way for us to communicate informally now she is away at University.
But when I was taking her simply everywhere – no, it wasn’t necessary.