Long gone are the days of dragging the cord of the home phone under the door and hiding in the hallway to have a private conversation, or walking to the phone box with a pocket full of coins to make a call from a public phone box. Nowadays, the luxury of having a mobile phone is not only used to make calls, it’s an avenue to access social media sites, search the internet, watch YouTube and play games. In fact, my experience is that children use a mobile phone less for its principle function ‘to call’ than anything else. So it’s not surprising really that many parents are reluctant to allow their children to have a mobile phone. However, at some stage we all know that this is going to change and none of us want our child to be the only one who hasn’t got one. So what is the right age to allow our children to have a mobile phone?
Helpful for separated parents Some cave in to the pressure and constant requests from their children sooner than others. I have known 7 year olds to have their own phone. My first reaction was that it was too young, but I have also heard some children saying that they have been given a mobile phone to ring their Mum or Dad, as their parents were separated and it made it easier to stay in touch when they were at sleep overs. I have to admit that initially I felt the child could have asked to borrow their parents phone to call the other parent, but then I realised that there may be a very good reason why this is not always possible. For example, if it was late at night, they may not feel let’s say, their Dad would allow a late call home. From the child’s point of view, they may be missing their mum and simply want to call or text them without their Dad knowing to avoid risking offending them. I think that in this case, allowing a child to have a phone at a young age helps them to feel safe and less anxious when spending time between two separated parents.It got me thinking that there may be other situations where allowing a mobile phone may seem unnecessary initially, but after knowing more information, it may seem justified.
Phones for safety As our children are getting older and asking for more freedom, I feel happier allowing them to walk home from school on their own, or to go out with friends if they have a mobile phone. For me, the safety and reassurance that a mobile phone provides supersedes the negatives. If there was a problem or emergency, I feel happier knowing they can reach me if they need to. Quite frequently, my eldest two call me because, for a variety of different reasons, they are either letting me know why they are running late, or asking to be home later than planned. The fact that they can call me to discuss it, alleviates some of the stress that I definitely would otherwise have felt.So my rationale is that children don’t need a mobile phone until they start to go out independently. For me, my children were towards the middle/end of year 5/year 6, which makes them 10 or 11 years old. According to research by Internet Matters 10 is the average age British children get their own phone. I feel this is a good age to start to develop a little independence as it prepares them for secondary school, where they will need to travel independently. Having a mobile phone also means that I can download a tracking app to check where they are if I need or want to. I like to use the tracking app Life360 and I regularly check they have got to school ok which definitely puts my mind at rest before I go to work.
Helps socialise and friendships On the one hand, having a mobile allows our children to contact their friends, make plans to meet up and ultimately grow stronger bonds. Let’s face it, none of us want our child to be left out of the social circle that exists online. However, I’m also mindful that the same avenue can be used for some to express hurtful comments and cyber bullying. It’s a tough decision and definitely one that needs keeping an eye on. Top tip- always know their password so you can keep tabs on things and check everything is ok.
Its not just about age- it’s maturity Most children at this age are mature enough to obey the rules of both going out independently and those regarding the mobile phone. Saying that, I do feel it’s not so much about what age they are but how mature they are and whether they are responsible enough to take care of and be trusted with a mobile phone to use it in the right way. I also think it’s really important to set some rules early on so everyone knows where they stand. For example, no going on phones at bed time, no phones at the dinner table, taking responsibility to charge the phone- I always like my children to have a fully charged phone when they go out, (not that they always remember to do it!).There’s also the issue of WhatsApp groups, text messages, snap chat and probably others that I’m not even aware of! The constant pinging of messages. This can be time consuming and distracting, especially at times when homework needs to be done, not to mention annoying! Top tip! When there is homework or something important that needs to be done, insist that the phone goes on silent! Some might say that allowing children to have a mobile phone just shifts the safety concern from physical safety to internet safety. There’s no denying that allowing children access to the internet comes with a whole hosts of safety issues to worry about. I talk openly to my children about the risks and possible scenarios that could arise and I ask them to tell me if anything unexpected happens or pops up on their phone and I trust they are both old enough and responsible enough to be able to talk to me if there ever was a problem. In fact, they have come up to me with a number of non-issues but I would much prefer that than the other way round. One thing that does concern me is how addictive using a mobile phone is and how it opens doors for manipulation from advertisers, the public and other influencers. This is another aspect to consider when deciding when is the right time to allow our children to have a mobile phone. To read more about how much mobile phones can influence our lives please read my next blog ‘The power of Social Media’.