When is the right age to let your child have their first mobile phone?

by Lauren Abbott

It's a modern parenting dilemma - when to give a child their first mobile phone?

Studies have found that the average child hits double figures and age 10 before being presented with theirs.

And while many adults may worry about the time children spend looking at their screens, the fact is that mobiles can serve a useful purpose for parents.

Mobile and the moral dilemma
Mobile and the moral dilemma

A separate survey by Netmums and the online mobile phone retailer e2save found that parents' main motivation for buying children mobile phones was emergencies and safety.

"Most of the time parents are giving mobile phones to children because of safety and keeping in touch," agrees Jeremy Todd, chief executive of the parenting charity Family Lives.

"Our main concern is if the phone is just being used as a pacifier, to keep children quiet."

Children predominantly use mobiles for calls, texting, playing games and using social apps such as Facebook and Twitter.

Mr Todd explained: "Kids aren't necessarily gaming on mobiles, they're staying in touch with friends, so using mobile phones doesn't necessarily have to be perceived as a bad thing.

When is the right age to make the mobile move?
When is the right age to make the mobile move?

"But if they're gaming all day long on their phone, they need to be encouraged to try a variety of other things too, including playing outside."

The risk of escalating costs can be a more worrying aspect of children's mobile phone use when line rental, calls and texts as well as the risk of app and online purchases are considered.

Indeed, some parents give their children a phone as a way of teaching financial responsibility.

Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, said: "It's encouraging to see that children and teenagers nowadays are very technically and digitally aware, and that they're using their mobile phones productively.

"Costs, however, can easily add up quickly on a mobile phone, particularly with data usage, which we found to be the biggest single contributor to bill shocks.”

He suggests:

  • Give a child a second-hand device, making them less of a target for thieves and cheaper to replace
  • If a handset has internet access, ensure children are aware of security, personal safety and bills
  • If buying a smartphone choose one with built-in parental control software or use parental control apps
  • To avoid breaching data allowances, most phones have limits found in the settings menu
  • Giving a child a prepay (PAYG) phone allows parents to limit what is spent every month and if the phone is stolen, thieves can't run up bills past the credit balance
  • Contract phone deals come with smart handsets included and more generous text, minute and data allowances, but can cost more per month and can often lead to children unintentionally racking up excess bills. Only consider contract deals if your child has already shown they can budget responsibly when using a mobile phone
  • Capped contracts can come with a handset and offer the power to cap a child's monthly spend as if they were on PAYG. Since capped deals are rare, ensure the networks who offer them have network coverage in your area.

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