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You won’t be surprised to discover that more than 90% of secondary school aged children have a mobile phone. To be honest, as the mum of three teenagers, I’m surprised to discover that 10% of them DON”T have a phone! If you’re thinking of giving your child a phone of their own, there are a few things to consider.
The right age
What’s the right age to hand a child a phone? This is probably the most biggest question for parents. But there is no such thing as the ‘right age’. There are no laws dictating the age at which one can own a phone, it’s entirely up to the parents to make that call (see what I did there?). Every child is different, so it really comes down to whether or not they’re mature enough to look after an expensive device. Your child should be old enough to understand conversations surrounding online safety and their responsibility. You may also decide only to give a phone when they actively need one.
The majority of parents wait until their children are at secondary school, or maybe in year 6 – when kids may be making their own way to and from school or frequently going out to with friends. However, it’s not uncommon for much younger children to have a phone and again, this is entirely up to the parents.
The right phone
Your kids will probably have their own ideas about the right phone for them, but smartphones are often an unnecessary expense (not to mention a target for thieves). You don’t need the latest iPhone to call or text, so if that’s all you want your child to be able to do, a basic feature phone will suffice. These phones are very cheap and usually quite sturdy; perfect for children who are clumsy or prone to misplacing things.
But, there are benefits to smartphones too. They often have advanced parental controls so you can more carefully filter content. They also have GPS and there are a number of tracking apps which means you can see where the phone is at any time. Even older generation smartphones have these features, so don’t fork out for the latest model if you don’t have to. A lot of parents pass their old phones on to their kids when they upgrade, thus saving on expense and meaning it isn’t such a big risk if they lose or break it.
It’s important to discuss things like parental controls and location monitoring with your child before you install them. Being transparent builds trust with your child, and will help them better understand responsible phone use.
How to prevent unexpected charges
Unexpected charges are mainly an issue on pay-monthly contracts. They are less likely, but still possible, on pay-as-you-go. Look on any parenting forum and you’ll find numerous horror stories of children accidentally running up phone bills in the hundreds or thousands. There are a number of ways they can do this, and a number of ways you can prevent it.
Premium numbers (often used in competitions) are a major culprit. Just one text can cost as much as £5, and they may even include recurring charges. Be sure to have a conversation with your child about these numbers and make it clear they should discuss calling or texting any new numbers with you first.
Picture messages sent to friends and family members can also add up. They’re not usually included
in your monthly allowance and cost around 40p per message. Encourage your child to send images via WhatsApp or social media (whilst connected to Wi-Fi) instead.
In-game purchases are a big problem and children often don’t realise exactly what they’re doing. This is especially true when the purchase can be made through the phone bill itself, so no credit card numbers are required. To avoid surprise charges like these, set-up extensive approval permissions such as Apple’s Ask to Buy.
Exceeding data allowance is easily done by both children and adults. Once you do, it can cost a small fortune, with just 250MB of data costing around £6. Setting a cap will prevent your kids from going over their limit. Call your network provider to set one up.
How to keep your child safe
If you’ve decided to give your child a smartphone with access to the internet, your next concern will be how to keep them safe. Cyber bullying, grooming and viewing adult content is unfortunately rife. But you can take several steps to protect your child and ensure their smartphone experience is a good one.
First, contact your mobile provider and ask for adult content filters to be turned on. This prevents children from accessing websites with mature or adult content. This only works on 3G/4G, so make sure you also have similar filters set up on your home broadband.
Child-friendly browsers are available, and installing one of these will restrict inappropriate content. Mobicip Safe is a free browser app available on both iPhone and Android. If you choose to go this route, be sure to uninstall or restrict access to the phone’s default browser.
And of course, frequent discussions about their online activity are essential. For more detailed
advice on keeping your child safe online and on their phones, take a look at this guide by the NSPCC.