Kids are growing up faster than ever. You only have to switch on the news to hear of another child subjected to online bullying, or being pressured by social media posts.
And while we all want to protect our children from online horrors, we have to accept that they’re growing up in a world very different from our own – one where technology rules.
|Image credit: Anthony Kelly
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when a child should get their first smartphone, but one thing’s for sure: acceptable ages are getting younger and younger and, in my experience, this is largely driven by peer pressure and the need for working parents to keep tabs on their kids.
Our children will work in a world where digital is key, and if they aren’t digital-savvy, they could miss out. Schools all over the world are putting more and more emphasis on using IT in lessons, even introducing coding lessons. Both my children use Google Classroom for their lessons which has proved invaluable during the current COVID pandemic.
So, if you know it’s going to happen anyway, it’s time to start weighing up when your kids are ready to get a phone. These are just some of the questions you need to ask yourself.
Questions to ask before getting your child their first mobile phone
Can you afford it?
This should be the first question you ask because, let’s be honest, you are the one most likely to be paying for it – whether it’s an additional phone on your monthly contract or a pay-as-you-go deal which means constant credit top-ups – trusting kids to stay within data limits and not phone each other from their bedrooms is optimistic at best.
There’s also the issue of which model of phone to get. Make no mistake, kids do judge each other on whether they have the latest handset – even if that handset is handed down from a parent during their latest contract upgrade.
If there is a possibility that your child may be picked on for not having a cool handset, it may actually be better to wait awhile.
An expensive handset will also require the extra outlay of phone insurance just in case it is dropped, lost or stolen.
How responsible are they?
This is another very important question to ask yourself. If you can trust your children to use their phone sensibly, and give you complete access to apps, websites and passwords, then you’re onto a winner. NSPCC.org.uk has some great resources for parents and children alike, to help teach your kids the dangers of going online, and how to stay safe.
Nearly all phones come with parental locks and controls, so before you pick a phone, see which has the best ratings for enforced security and passwords.
How financially savvy are they?
Paying for the phone is just the beginning. We all hear about the kids who accidentally spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on sneaky in-app purchases, so it’s vital that your children have a good grasp about money. This is a two-fold approach really. They need to know the consequences of just clicking ‘buy’ when they need help in a game. And they need to know the average running costs of a phone.
You might not ask them to contribute towards their plan, but it’s good to sit down together to see what the costs are.
Why not explore phone comparison sites and compare and contrast the costs of pay monthly, pay as you go and sim only deals to give your children an idea of what they can get for their money.
You could use this helpful infographic to explain the details of budgeting and finances, in an easy-to-understand way.
How good are they at prioritising?
We know that smartphones are an endless sources of amusement and, let’s be honest, are frequently used to keep kids quiet in social situations such as dentists’ waiting rooms but they are highly addictive and it’s only too easy for children to end up spending hours in front of the screen – as it is for their parents!
Whilst older children may be able to put the phone down and concentrate on their homework, in our experience strict controls are needed both to monitor internet usage and to ensure that they don’t spend every waking hour attached to their phones. You cannot expect younger children to prioritise schoolwork – or, sadly, off-screen activities such as sports and clubs when there are games to be played.
There are some great ideas in this article, about how to balance time on and off-screen. And if you think you’re guilty of too much screen time, you might find them quite helpful too!
Actually, we’ve found that giving your kids mobile phones is a great test of your parenting abilities and also your relationship with your kids. It’s a delicate balancing act between respecting them as individuals but being there to sort out the inevitable friendship problems that arise online and protecting them from grooming and online bullying.
You can find more discussion around the issue of how to decide whether your kids are ready for their own phone in my post here.
But my advice would be to wait as long as you can and then ensure you have the ground rules in place so that your child’s on-screen world doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your family life and their time in school.