We’ve been tossing this question around at DigiKids for a while now, as it seems to be a highly contentious issue. Every time it comes up in conversation either between the team, or around the dinner table with friends, we’re met with a wide range of responses.
So, here goes…we’re laying down some guidelines.
We did a little scooting around the great and sparkly Internet and found two pieces of cool research. We’ve all read about the notion that we should keep kid’s live ‘screen-free’ until they’re two but, is that really possible nowadays? But, for us, this piece spoke volumes because it adequately outlined the purpose and age ranges of kids who have their own phones – note, the older your child gets, the more likely a mobile phone is going to move in to the “needs” category, rather than the “occasionally play with it” column.
What do other parents say?
I will admit to this – I was astounded to hear from a friend that her daughter’s high school has “phone breaks” instituted as part of the school day. As in, the pupils are given allotted times throughout the day to whip out their phones, check in with their parents (haha, I know – I’m living in a dream world!), make calls, message their mates and probably snap a classroom selfie or two. But, thinking about it more and more – I’d rather have allocated time slots in the day to do this, rather than have kids using their mobile phones during teaching time.
Anyway, what do other parents say? Cath posed the question to friends on Facebook and got an astounding response from fellow parents – 96 comments later and this what parents (and some non-parents) had to say:
- The average age, it seems, for a child to be given a mobile phone at the moment, is 10.
- The most popular approach seems to favour giving a child a feature phone when younger, and then scaling up to smartphone when they’re entering high school.
- The most common reason for why parents get their kids phones? Is to enable their kids to get in touch with them and vice versa. Random thought on that one – our kids do more nowadays out of the home, than I did. And I realise how old I sound saying that.
- The second most mentioned reason why a kid gets a phone? Because their friends have them – and it’s become a socially essential item.
But perhaps the most telling of all the responses can be summed up like this:
As technology becomes more and more a part of our daily lives, and our children grow up in a world that is constantly connected, they’re being raised in an environment that, by virtue of circumstance and invention, makes them digital natives.
And, for that reason, withholding technology from them, or barring them from using technology could actually do them a disservice either now or at a later stage.
If you were looking for hard and fast answers on the age thing, we’re sorry to disappoint you.
Ultimately, the decision to give your child their very own mobile phone rests with you and your child. Of prime importance is the relationship you have with your kid, and the conversations around technology that you have to have. Talking about technology, its uses and the online world is now as unavoidable as talking to your kids about the birds and bees (You do talk to your kids about sex, right?)
Putting a mobile phone into the hands of your kid will depend on the following:
- Are they, in your view, responsible enough to take care of it and not lose it, to the best of their ability?
- Are you prepared to devote time to helping them become comfortable in the platforms they will use? Are you comfortable with those platforms? You’ll need to be able to answer questions and guide their journeys.
- Are you able to monitor their mobile phone use? Yes, you can use monitoring software and gadgets but – ultimately – software can’t replace you.
- What is the purpose of giving your child their very own mobile phone? Is it to keep in touch with them or is it for entertainment purposes? This will help you decide if you’re going the feature or smart phone route.
- Who will carry the costs of the phone – will you do so, or will they have to cover it from their pocket money?
- Will you discuss the dos and don’ts of being online with your child? Do they know what to do if they come across something that makes them uncomfortable?
And, finally, remember that you have a unique opportunity here – the educational potential that lies within the world of mobile devices seems infinite. Enjoy exploring this world together with your child, and don’t just sit at the table across from each other. If mobile devices can truly connect us, then it let it be a connection between you as a parent, and your child as a person.