Is your child old enough for a mobile phone? Before you press the “yes” button, check out this guide to help you decide, says Yvonne Walus.
Not so long ago, kids simply rode their bikes to their best mate’s house for a catch-up. But our modern lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to face-to-face contact as much as it used to. A mobile phone, on the other hand, allows kids to phone, text, send photos, access social media,
and stay in touch with mates instantly.
When the average smartphone contains a computer more powerful than the one that sent Apollo 11 to the moon, it’s no wonder they want such a magical multi-purpose communication device. A phone allows your child to search the Internet, play games (solo or with their friends), listen to music, watch videos, and even find directions. It’s available wherever they go, whenever they wish.
For younger children, a mobile is a status symbol, especially if they are the first among their friends to have one. Once all their mates have a phone, there’s the constant pressure to update to the latest model and the best apps. Whatever the reasons for wanting one, it’s a certainty that all parents will eventually have to decide whether or not to get their child a mobile phone. So if the answer is yes, when is the right time?
For parents, the pros of a phone are accessibility (staying in touch with your child), convenience (letting them know to go to Nana’s after school), and the first step towards independence.
The cons to your child having a mobile phone centre around lack of parental control. What are the kids getting up to online? Are they exposing themselves to stranger danger or text bullying?
According to the latest research, seven in 10 New Zealand children have a phone. While this statistic may look scary or downright unbelievable, the good news is that it does include teenagers. For kids aged 12 years and younger, the ratio is more like five in 10. Overall, 12 seems to be the magic age for first phones. However, just because other parents have done it, doesn’t mean that timeframe is right for every family.
Ask yourself if your child understands the obligation of a phone. Are they mature enough to handle that responsibility? Will they stick to rules? These include staying within data limits, obeying any other limits you impose, avoiding inappropriate sites, keeping their details private, taking care with what they text or say online, and reporting cyber bullying?
If the answer to any of the above is not a firm “yes”, your child should wait. “We’re still the parents,” says Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media. “It’s our job to say, ‘Not yet,’ if you judge it appropriate.”When you think your child is phone-ready, there are more questions to consider. Should you monitor your child’s phone use, like reading their texts? Should you buy the latest model or will secondhand do the trick while they’re learning to take care of a phone, bearing in mind how easily it can be dropped, mislaid or stolen? For younger children, is it safer to disable the camera, Internet access, and YouTube? Should it be a prepaid plan for calls only, not text or data? Should you insist that the phone be left outside the bedroom, especially at night? Decide on etiquette. Do we use it during dinner or interrupt a face-to-face conversation to check a text?
Remember that children will learn from you by example. AVG Technologies surveyed 340 Kiwi
adults and 304 children. The children’s biggest complaint about their parents’ phone habits was that adults were distracted by their phones while interacting with their children. About 40% said
this made them feel unimportant. Hopefully, when our children finally get their hands on their mobile phones, will they won’t make us feel unimportant too.
There’s conflicting information about mobile phones and brain tumors. Some studies suggest a link, while others imply that brain tumor rates haven’t changed since mobile phones were first used. Experts point out that children’s heads are smaller than those of adults so they may experience brain exposure although the New Zealand exposure standard is believed to be safe for both children and adults. Mobile phones have been classed as a “possible” cause of cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer – which means that nobody really knows.
Questions to ask your child
- Why do you want to own a phone?
- What features do your friends like most?
- What are some examples of inappropriate use?
- What features do you think are free and what costs extra?
- Should you let friends use your phone if they ask?
Tech geeks agree that Android is the best option for kids of all ages. Yes, the iPhone is pretty, but location monitoring and parental control are way superior on Android. For example, Apple doesn’t allow third-party parental controls, and Apple decides on the content ratings for videos, music, books and apps, so all you can do is set a blanket limit. With Android, you can block any app individually, and even install Screen Time to set different time limits for every application. While Windows phones have come a long way, they are still nowhere as good as the iPhone or Android. The biggest advantage is the price, while the main disadvantage is the lack of
apps, including education apps.
Yvonne is an education specialist, senior consultant to Creative Learning Systems in Auckland, and a mother of two children.