Do kids need a mobile phone to stay safe?

Is giving a child a mobile phone really about safety?
Is giving a child a mobile phone really about safety? Photo: Getty Images

On a recent sunny Sunday afternoon at a local school fete, I lost sight of my seven-year-old son amongst a sea of similarly aged children. As I moved from ride to ride my eyes scanning the crowd, I asked anyone I recognised whether they had seen him. As my concern rose, another mother mused that it could be time to buy my son his own mobile phone. While at the time I found her remark didn’t help the situation, by the time I’d found my son, happily waiting in line to buy an icy-pole with friends, I couldn’t help wondering if maybe she was right.

There is no doubt the advent of mobile phones has made communication easier. In fact, I often wonder how we managed without them. But as I relayed the day’s events to my husband that evening he made the valid point that considering last term alone our son has lost three school hats, his school jumper, and countless drink bottles, it’s doubtful he’s responsible enough to be given a mobile phone.

The next day, as I shared an early dinner with a friend and our respective children, her phone chimed. To her amusement, the incoming message was not for her but for her eight-year-old daughter. It was from a school friend requesting a play date the following afternoon. The message had been sent from an iPod touch, which can send and receive text messages, and according to my friend texting between primary school aged children is becoming increasingly common. 

Ten years ago the average age a child received their first mobile phone was 13.2 years. But according to a recent UK study, in 2013 children receive their first mobile phone at the average age of seven. While the majority of parents surveyed (74 percent) claim they gave their children mobiles for safety reasons and peace-of-mind, 22 percent of parents bought their children phones simply because their classmates owned handsets.

I walk my seven-year-old and five-year-old the short distance to and from school each day. I drop them off and pick them up from after school activities and play dates. I don’t leave them home alone and if they aren’t in my care they are in the care of another adult. Adam Cable, director of MobilePhoneChecker.co.uk, who carried out the study, said: 'Despite the argument that parents want to keep their children safe at all times, many may think that seven years old is far too young to own a mobile phone.’ And having given the idea due consideration, I agree, it’s too young.

Like many children, mine love technology. Our son uses a computer at school and for homework, and he will often text his dad from my phone asking him to hurry home from work. Similarly our daughter loves to play games on the computer or iPad and will often answer my phone and chat away to my friends. But an adult’s virtual world is much different than a child’s and protection of children is a key factor in their usage of mobile phones.

When chatting recently to a mother of four children, two of whom are tweens, and have their own mobile phones, she explained to me that in her experience the ground rules of mobile phone usage need to be simple and inflexible. In her house phones must always be accessible to both parents. When the two older children are at home, phones are to be placed in a bowl on the kitchen bench, and all internet use is time limit restricted and monitored.

Parenting is challenging enough without the added concern of technology and its benefits or pitfalls. As it is, I always know who my children are interacting with, but of course the time will come when they get more freedom. Then, with strict monitoring and guidelines, I am sure I will see the benefits of giving them access to a mobile phone. But for now, I will savour having young children who aren’t yet desperate for independence, while trying my best not lose them in a crowd. 

At what age do you think it is acceptable for a child to be given a mobile phone? Leave your comment below.

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