Giving your child a mobile phone

When most of us were children mobile phones didn’t even exist, so it can feel quite alien to us when our children feel the need to have one. The ever growing market has tapped into the technology-thirsty young generation and there are even mobile phones for four year olds.

Family Lives recognises that giving your child a mobile phone can be a difficult decision. On the one hand you want to be able to keep in touch with them and know they are safe, whilst on the other you might have concerns about what type of content they could be trying to access, or inadvertently accessing.  It can be a fraught time, but with the correct up to date information we hope that it will make it easier for you to make an informed decision.  We have put together some top tips for parents of children, pre-teens and teenagers to make things a little easier. 

Does your child need a mobile phone?

As a parent ask yourself whether your child really needs a mobile phone, and whether you feel they would be capable of using one in an emergency.  If you are getting a phone, pick one you feel your child can manage.  There is no point in having an “all singing all dancing” phone if they aren’t going to be able to work it.

Many separated parents could see the positives of keeping in touch through the mobile phone, whether it was the non-resident parent who could send texts or call the child directly, or the resident parent who felt reassured that their child could keep in touch during contact if they needed to. Some parents liked the idea their child had a safety net and could get in touch easily if they didn’t feel safe at times such as walking home from school or on the school bus

Setting the boundaries

Make sure your children understand the rules.  If they are small you can program in the numbers that they will need so that it will display who is calling them.  Tell them not to answers calls from numbers that they don’t recognise.  

Make rules for time spent talking on the phone so you won’t be surprised by an astronomical phone bill.  Check this regularly so you know that they are keeping to the boundaries.   Most schools ban mobile phones in the classroom and will confiscate them if found. Make sure your child is aware of the rules and the consequences.

mobile phones for children

Teens and phones

Many teens are loathed to speak to their parents and regard them as a nuisance.  Make sure that they understand that you need to know that they are safe and expect your calls to be answered.  If they can’t talk when you call then at the very least you expect a phone call to be returned.  

Once they reach the teenage years you might have to rethink their price plans to include extra minutes/texts as necessary. Phones are a source of much social interaction so this will avoid you being lumbered with a hefty bill.  Make sure they are responsible for checking their bills and accounting for their usage as necessary.

Teenagers need boundaries too, so make sure that they know that it isn’t acceptable for them to be using their phones at the dinner table etc.  If you have to remove their phones at bedtime because they can’t be trusted then follow through with this and trust your own gut instinct.

Mobile phone networks normally block adult content as standard even for adults but this can be changed via your permissions.  However with most children and teenagers being able to easily access wifi it isn’t quite so straightforward.  Phones used on wifi have no content blocking as this is down to the wifi owner to provide.  In essence, this means that in 99.9% of cases a child can access anything they want via a friend or an open wifi connection.  It is a very bad idea for anyone, whether child or adult to connect to an unsecured wifi.

So what’s new?

New areas of concern are so called “Adhoc” wifi that would allow a person with an unblocked phone to make their internet connection available to their friends’ handsets like iPod touch or iPads which may not have a built in internet connection, only wifi.  A parent may feel their child is fine as they have to use the home wifi connection but away from the home they could connect to a friend’s Adhoc or other open or unsecured networks they find.

Parents should ensure that children know exactly what is expected of them in this regard. Ensure that they understand that connecting to the home wifi is allowed, but any other sources can only be accessed with permission or as you consider appropriate.

Children do make mistakes so if things go wrong or they come across something that makes them feel uncomfortable, try to encourage them to talk to you about it.  If it’s a delicate subject and talking would be too intense let them know that they can always write you a letter.  This might help to take the pressure off but will keep communication lines open.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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