This a pretty topical question and one you will doubtless have your own opinion on. So, rather than just sharing our view, I’m going to take an objective look at the appropriate age for mobile phone use and see what the research has to say.
Understanding the risks
When you hand your child their first mobile phone, you’re giving them an incredibly powerful communication tool. Not only can they send messages, create images and send videos to friends, but if they have a smartphone, they’ll also be able to access websites and upload images and videos online. There’s also the risk that they’ll simply spend too long on their phones in favour of more wholesome pursuits.
Having unfettered access to the internet exposes children to many risks. We’ve all heard horrific stories about children being groomed online, but there’s also the risk they could unknowingly rack up substantial bills by downloading apps or playing games. They could also access inappropriate material. With so many risks, it’s little wonder this issue is such an important one for many parents.
What age do most children have phones?
Of course, no two children are the same. It’s not uncommon for children at primary school to have phones, but research shows that the average age for a child to have their first phone is 10.3 years old, although many parents wait until their child starts secondary school at the age of 11 or 12. The same study found that by the age of 12, 50 percent of children also have social media accounts, primarily Facebook and Instagram.
That might sound young, but in many cases, there are practical reasons why a child might need a phone. For example, if they attend out-of-school sports clubs, are just starting to leave the house on their own or make their own way to school, parents will feel reassured if they do have a phone.
Questions to ask when considering phone use
Your child will probably be technologically savvy enough to own a phone, but will they have the maturity to use it wisely. Here are some questions to consider:
- Does your child have a sense of responsibility? For example, do they show up on time and keep you informed about their movements?
- Do they tend to lose things easily?
- Could you trust them not to use their phones in class?
- Would they adhere to limits for the time they can spend on their phones and the apps they can download?
- Can you trust them not to use their phones to bully or harass others?
- Do they need to be in touch for safety reasons?
How can you make sure they use it safely?
If you decide having a mobile phone would be beneficial to your child then there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risks they face. For example, putting a password on the phone’s app store will prevent them from installing apps without your knowledge. If they do want to install a new app then you should research it first to make sure it’s appropriate.
There are also parental controls you can put on children’s handsets to prevent them from visiting inappropriate sites and keep them from sending texts or making calls to unknown numbers. Perhaps most important of all is to have a conversation with the child outlining exactly what they can and can’t do on their phone and why. They should also understand that nothing is private online.
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