I received my first mobile phone when I was 14 years old.
But this was back in 1999. There was no mobile internet access, text message allowance was severely strict, and hardly any of my friends had phones anyway. Back then, the only real consideration for my parents was whether I would be sensible with my call and text allowance.
These days, it’s not as simple. The question “When is my child ready for their first mobile phone?” equates to “When is my child responsible enough to have the internet and the world of social media at their fingertips?”
My eldest child is 7, so I feel we are still a few years away from the smartphone consideration cropping up. But I can foresee us buying our eldest his first mobile phone during the final year of primary school when he will be 11 years old. At that age, I would want him to be able to keep up with his peers, and, most importantly, I’d want a way to keep in touch with him if he goes out without us.
Because of the associated dangers that can come with smartphones and internet access, I would want to make doubly sure that my children fully understood how to be safe online before I allow them to own their own smartphones. I would want them to be able to recognise social media bullying, and responsible social media use.
Another solution, if the worry of social media is too much, is to buy your child a Nokia 3310, affectionately known as the ‘Nokia brick’ or a ‘Dumb Phone’. This phone has no smart capabilities, it simply allows you to make basic calls and texts. Perfect for keeping in touch with parents, but for me, the con would be my children inevitably complaining that they didn’t have smartphones like some of their friends, and missing out on that social aspect that comes with school life and owning a smartphone.
The problem lies in that I kind of want them to have it both ways. I want my children to be responsible with their social media usage, and naturally, I want to shield them from the bullying that goes on through What’s app and social media. But I also don’t want my children to be the odd ones out and to miss out on communication with their peers.
Whatever age you feel is right to give your child a smartphone, here are some useful tips to encourage appropriate smartphone usage:
TIPS FOR GIVING YOUR CHILD THEIR FIRST SMARTPHONE:
- Don’t give your child the password to the app store, this will prevent them from downloading any new apps without your permission.
- Have a conversation to inform children of your rules and expectations of smartphone use. Make all rules clear! Do not assume that children “should have known” something.
- Make sure that you know your child ’s passwords for their phone, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and any other social media app they are using.
- Owning your first smartphone comes hand in hand with having several serious conversations with your child. Make sure your child knows how to recognise online bullying and how NOT to be an online bully. Make sure they know what to do if they receive an inappropriate text or photo (tell an adult or a teacher immediately and do not share the photo/text further). Make sure they are aware of the very real legal implications of sending nude pictures of themselves to someone or forwarding a sexually suggestive picture that they may have received from a classmate.
- If you have bought the phone and are footing the bills, then remember it’s actually YOUR phone, not your child’s, and you have the right to take it back or cut off the data if you feel your child is not being responsible with their smartphone usage.
- Set times when phones are allowed to be used, and times when they aren’t. Societally, we are all becoming increasingly attached to our smartphones – it can be hard to put it down, to not keep checking for messages every five minutes, to not absent-mindedly scroll through social media platforms for an extra hour before bed. Having boundaries and screen curfews from an early age will instil good ‘unplugging’ habits.
- The best answer I can give when asking the question “When is my child ready for their first smartphone?” is to trust your instincts. Every child is individual and you know your child best. You know their maturity level, their friends and peers, and their habits and tendencies. Only you can make the decision as to when to hand your child a device that requires a great level of responsibility.