Remember when you were ten? Chances are the thing you wanted most in the world and begged your parents for was a BMX bike or a Sony Walkman. Nowadays the biggest plea in households up and down the land by tweens is:
‘Mum/Dad pleeeeease can I get a smartphone?’
Deciding what age to give your child a mobile phone is a dilemma every parent will face. And there are a whole heap of things to think carefully about before you do.
What is the average age children are given a mobile phone?
A recent survey revealed that most parents think that the ideal age to give a child a mobile phone is 11.
This makes sense as it is the time when your child will start secondary school and may be walking to and from school by themselves. You might feel easier knowing you can easily contact them.
However the survey also revealed that over 25% of 6 year olds have their own smartphone and that children spend a staggering 21 hours per week on their devices.
That’s a LOT of time which used to be spent playing, reading, talking or perhaps even sleeping that is now spent on their phones. Deciding the right time to hand your child a phone is a big consideration.
Opening Pandora’s Box
It’s a rite of passage for tweenagers but handing your child a smartphone can also be like opening up Pandora’s box.
Unless you go old school and buy your child a Nokia 3110, by handing a smartphone to your child you are not just giving them the power to make calls and send texts but you are opening them up to a whole new world of potentially unsupervised access to the internet and to apps, in-app purchases, social media and messaging services.
So what should parents consider before giving their child a smartphone?
Are they responsible enough to take care of it?
Mobile phones are not cheap. Even a more basic phone will set you back a pretty penny.
It’s worth asking yourself if your child is responsible enough to take good care of a phone. Talk to them about how important it is to take care of it and what will happen if they drop it or lose it.
Are you willing to replace it for them or will they have to earn some money to buy a new phone themselves?
Will they be glued to their phone 24/7?
Smartphones are very enticing and can even be addictive. A recent survey revealed that UK adults check their phones every 12 minutes.
Once your child has a smartphone they could be subjected to an endless stream of alerts that continually distract them and bring their attention back to their phone. The bleeps and pings are hard to resist and if they occur during school time, homework time or even family dinnertime they can be very distracting.
It’s a good idea to think about what limits you will set on smartphone usage. And get your child to agree to a few ground rules. They might include a ‘no phones at mealtimes’ rule, a ‘phones off at school’ rule and ‘no phones after 8pm’ agreement. Be prepared that you might have to stick to these rules yourself too!
Do they know how to surf safely?
If your child’s smartphone has access to the internet, try as you might, it’s almost impossible to keep tabs on everything they will search for online.
You can check their search history but they might figure out how to clear it. Even if they don’t, you are one step behind and they might have already accessed online content that you don’t feel is age-appropriate.
So before you hand over a smartphone, talk to your child about what is appropriate and inappropriate to search online. Talk to them about what they can search for and what they should avoid typing into the search bar. Find out what parental controls are included with the phone and make sure you use them to restrict content.
You might want to enforce a rule that they should never browse unaccompanied. Also, you may want to make a point of encouraging your child to tell you whenever they see anything that makes them uncomfortable or upsets them, or simply isn’t what they expected.
Access to the internet will throw up some things that they may not understand, so it is important that they feel they can communicate them with you.
Be app savvy
There are so many apps out there. It’s worth talking to your child about which they can download, how you will be checking which they download and which you won’t allow them to download until they are older.
You might be OK with your child downloading a fun game or puzzle app, but make it clear which apps you feel are inappropriate and are off-limits. Maybe you make it a rule that they check and ask first.
When they download apps, remember that you open them up to the temptation of in-app purchases. These are often very easy to access with a tap or click and before you know it your child can ramp up an eye-watering bill.
And if you are convinced your child would never be lured into clicking to buy in-app purchases, headlines such as this one, where an 11 year old spent £1,100 on iTunes in half an hour might make you think again!
The lure of social media
Just when you’ve given into the pleading for a smartphone you’ll be subjected to pester power to let your child join social media sites.
The main platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter set a minimum age of 13. In reality it is very easy for anyone to pop in a false date of birth and set up an account.
Almost nine out of ten 12 year olds and almost a third of 11 year olds are regularly using social media – despite the legal age being 13 to sign up, according to recent research. Letting your child use social media opens up a whole new box of worms and a whole new raft of things to talk to them about, in terms of using the platforms safely.
Even if you put your foot down and insist that your child wait until they are at least 13, be prepared for the things you should consider before you give in.
The dangers of sexting
It might seem it is way too early to talk to your tween about the dangers of sending inappropriate pictures by text or messaging, but this is a conversation that is best to be had sooner rather than later.
Make sure your child knows what to do if they ever get an inappropriate text or photo sent to them. Also make them aware of the seriousness and legal implications of sending or forwarding on an inappropriate photo .
As they start approaching the teenage years, it’s worth also talking to them about the dangers of sending provocative or nude images of themselves to their boyfriends or girlfriends.
Explain that once these images are sent, they will have no control over who sees them, and they could get passed around the school or group of friends, or even posted online in which case they are out there forever.
They should also never feel pressured to send anyone these kinds of images.
‘But EVERYONE else has one’
Are you reluctant to give into the pleas and do you want to hold off just that little bit longer before you give your child a smartphone?
It might make you feel better to know that even billionaire tech mogul Bill Gates banned mobile phones for his kids until they were 14. Even after 14 he put strict limits on when they could use them.
In a recent interview with The Mirror, he said:
We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. You’re always looking at how it can be used in a great way – homework and staying in touch with friends – and also where it has gotten to excess.
We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.
Phones are not all bad but set the rules you want in place beforehand
Letting your child have a smart phone can be a great thing for you and your child.
You can feel safer knowing that your child can instantly contact you and you can contact them when they are walking to school or when you are picking them up and running late. They can be in contact with their friends and feel part of the group that are communicating with online as well as in the playground.
They can also be useful for researching homework projects. However, before allowing children to dive head first into the smart phone world, have a chat with them and set some ground rules that you both agree on first.