I can remember so clearly the day I got my first mobile phone. I was 21, had just finished university and was beyond excited at the idea of driving around in my red Mazda 121 (bubble car) making calls on my new fancy phone! The fact that it was the size of a brick, didn’t bother me a bit – I was connected!!
Without a doubt, mobile phones have completely changed our expectations of being connected and contactable. If calls or texts are not promptly returned in 2022, the lack of reply may be interpreted as rude or, worst case – the sender may feel that they’ve been ghosted!
So, in our super-connected society, it’s inevitable that our kids want to get in on the action. But when is the right time to give them a phone of their own? And how can you keep them safe?
Research Shows Nearly 50% of Aussie kids aged 6-13 Access A Mobile Phone
In 2020, the Australian Communications and Media Authority released a report, entitled Kids and Mobiles: how Australian children are using mobile phones, which found that in 2020, just under half (46%) of Aussie children aged 6 to 13 used a mobile phone. 33% of children owned the phone they used while the remaining 14% used a device that didn’t belong to them.
The research also showed that playing games, taking photos/videos, and using apps were the most common activities undertaken on a mobile phone. Using the phone to communicate via text messages and calling a parent or family member was also a common activity – and actually increased in the three years prior.
And if your tweens and teens are telling you that “everyone has a phone” then it looks like they are on the money, with the report revealing that 76% of 12- and 13-year-olds own their own devices.
How To Decide When The Time Is Right?
In my opinion, there are many factors that need to be considered when making this big decision. You need to take into account your child’s maturity, their technology habits, and most importantly, your gut instinct – one of the most powerful parenting tools, in my opinion!
And please, don’t think that is a one size fits all answer here because there absolutely isn’t. If there is one thing parenting 4 boys has taught me is that not only does each child have different strengths, but they mature at their own pace. So, when considering whether your child is ready, don’t think about their age. Instead, ask yourself whether they can handle the technology properly and robust enough to navigate the tricky stuff. A naïve 14-year-old with low social awareness may not be as ready as a savvy 12-year-old who has previously demonstrated successful problem-solving skills.
Here are some things to consider:
- Can your child read social cues in written form eg messaging and texting apps.
- How would your child respond if they experienced hurtful comments?
- Can your child manage valuable items carefully? Do they tend to lose items?
- Do they have enough self-control to manage their own screen time?
- Are you confident they would come to you if they experienced a problem?
- Do they understand the value of money? Is it likely they will spend money on their phone if unsupervised?
- Are you confident they understand the importance of their online reputation?
- Does your child display empathy?
What Rules Should I Introduce?
Let me share my biggest piece of advice – before you put that phone into your child’s hand, PLEASE set the ground rules. Their willingness to co-operate will be vastly reduced once the phone is theirs! Some families choose to outline the ground rules for any device (including a phone) in a family technology agreement. And it’s not a bad idea: you develop the rules and the boundaries and then have them sign it – just like a contract. I love this agreement from America’s Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) which you can find here. But why not develop your own one? Here are some points to consider including:
- Kindness and respect in all communication on the phone – always!
- No mobile phones to be kept in bedrooms overnight. They all need to be placed in the kitchen for charging.
- No mobile phones to be used at the dinner table.
- Who pays for the excess data? You or them?
- Who pays for in-app purchases? You or them?
- Who pays if the phone is lost or damaged? You or them?
- If they see anything that upsets or concerns them, they must always come to you.
- Take screenshots of behavior that concerns them
- You may want to have the right to view their phone – of course, in younger children, this is more appropriate.
- Are there certain times when the phone isn’t allowed?
- Who will know the passwords?
I’m a Fan of Phones in High School
In my opinion, starting high school seems to be a logical time to start thinking about phone ownership, if you haven’t gone down that road before. Many kids will need to catch public transport to get to high school and having a phone in their pocket, in case plans go awry can make everyone feel more comfortable.
Remember, You’re In Charge!!
I realize that there is so much to consider so take some time to weigh up all factors.
But don’t forget – you’re the parent. Regardless of how much pressure your super keen tween is applying – this is your decision. You are the best judge of your child’s maturity and readiness. Giving your child a phone is in effect, giving them access to the adult world. So, only say yes if you are convinced the time is right