Let’s talk about mobile phones for kids. If you’re a parent of a child capable of talking, they’ve probably already asked for their own mobile phone. Smartphone ownership is at its highest level in history, and kids these days are growing up in a mobile-dominated culture.
Although most kids simply want a mobile phone to play games or connect with their peers on social media, there’s a lot to be said for being able to keep in touch with your child once they start to become more independent venturing out there in the world without you by their side 24/7.
You can’t deny that pickups become a whole lot simpler when you’re able to call them and that knowing they can call you if anything happens allows us to give them a little more freedom.
So the question is – when it comes to mobile phones for kids, what is the right age for a mobile phone, and how do you know when your child is ready?
What the industry says
According to the great Bill Gates, he didn’t give his children phones until they turned 14. That may seem rather late for some of you, particularly seeing as it’s not uncommon to see primary aged children calling their parents as they leave the school gate.
In fact, according to Ofcom’s most recent report, 1% of the under fives already have their own smartphone. This rises to 5% in the age five to seven bracket, and 35% when they get to age eight to 11. By age 12 – 15, this is up to 83%.
Research shows that the average age for children be given mobile phones is 10.3 years old. That’s down from age 12 in 2016. Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rule about when a child needs a phone, so we need to look at other indicators to decide when the time is right.
Age versus maturity
In some ways, it’s not so much about a defining age which makes a phone appropriate, but more about how mature our children are. Looking for signs that they’re ready to be more responsible is a great place to start, such as:
- Being on time when you’re picking them up
- Not losing their personal belongings
- Adhering to rules about bedtime and screen time
- Doing homework without a fuss
- Being mature enough to understand internet safety
- Coming home when they say they will
Having a generally good level of responsibility around other things in their life bodes well for mobile phone ownership and should give you some confidence that they’re probably ready for their own device.
Need versus want
The next thing to consider when it comes to phones for kids is why they might need a mobile phone. Of course they want one, that’s a given, but other than winning brownie points as an awesome parent, are there actual reasons that a mobile phone is needed?
If they’re simply into playing mobile games – which you may or may not want! – then a tablet offers the same functionality, and with an even bigger screen. Because most tablets rely on Wi-Fi for connectivity, this will give you additional control over what they see and can access on the internet, using parental controls built into your router. You can take a look at some of the best kids tablets here.
However, if they need to be in touch with you for safety reasons, or you think a phone would benefit them socially, then it might be a better choice.
Smartphone versus mobile phone
For many parents, the trigger for needing a phone is often the age when children start walking themselves to and from school. With most UK schools allowing children to walk themselves from Key Stage 2 (age 7-8), that’s still awfully young for a fully featured smartphone with unbridled internet access.
If the need for a phone is purely for safety and emergency situations, you don’t necessarily need to go for a smartphone in order to satisfy this need. Basic mobile phones might not have the street cred your child demands, but they are often more functional as emergency contact devices than a smartphone could ever hope to be.
Very basic phones have far superior battery life. Many will happily sit in the bottom of a schoolbag on standby for up to a week, without any charging required. Most smartphones, on the other hand, can barely last a day without a top up, and much less if they’re using it for gaming too.
Responsibilities on both sides
Ultimately, when it comes to mobile phones for kids the decision to give your child a mobile phone is entirely yours. Weighing up the pros and cons, as well as the character and outlook of your own child, will help you to make the best decision possible.
If you do decide it’s a good time to enter the world of smartphone ownership, its important to maintain responsibility on both sides for your child’s safety. Make sure they understand the risks of irresponsible phone use, and that they’re aware of internet safety in general.
The Ofcom report mentioned earlier found that 40% of 8-11 year olds are allowed to take their phones to bed, rising to 71% in the 12- 15 age group. Personally, I find this astounding, what with all the research into the effects of screens on our sleep cycles.
When thinking about phones for kids, putting restrictions on phone use and screen time will almost always prove unpopular, but while our kids are still kids, it’s a necessary evil. Limiting their use of their phone, particularly at bedtime, will help them maintain a balance, and teach them good habits for when they are adults too.
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