Back To School – Does Your Child Need A Mobile Phone?
05 September 2018
Along with new school shoes and uniform, books and stationery, many ‘back to school’ shopping lists also include a mobile phone. Perhaps your child is moving up to secondary school and with that new independence and seniority you’ve promised them their first mobile phone. Or maybe they’re old enough to walk to school for the first time or will be travelling on public transport, and a mobile phone gives both of you some extra security.
There is no law that determines when a parent can buy their child a mobile. Parents must decide for themselves and set their own guidelines for how their child can use it. That can make it difficult when your child’s friends have phones long before yours do, or if their friends can use their phone for gaming or social media when you’re not happy for your child to do so.
The important thing to remember is that if your child is going to start the new school year with a new mobile, they need to use it safely and responsibly.
Fortunately, there are a number of things parents can do to help them. Consider the following:
Smartphones can access the Internet. Therefore you need to ensure that where possible parental controls are set to ensure your child doesn’t access inappropriate material. Your home broadband is the first place to tighten security. Most providers allow you to block different types of websites such as social media, gaming and gambling sites related to alcohol and, of course, adult content websites. The network provider (for the mobile) will also offer filters to prevent children from seeing content aimed at over 18s. More information on keeping children safe online can be found on the Internet Matters website - www.internetmatters.org/
Social media apps. Popular social media apps like Whatsapp, Instagram and Snapchat all have age restrictions. Instagram and Snapchat are both 13 years (although Snapchat has a younger version called SnapKidz) and Whatsapp recently raised their minimum age limit to 16 in the EU. Of course, children are quick to learn that these restrictions can be circumvented by using a different date of birth, you may find that many of your child’s classmates use social media apps at primary school.
If you want to monitor your child’s usage of their mobile and social media apps, before handing over a phone you could subscribe to a parental control programme. These are generally subscription services that allow you to view texts, calls, web browser history, social media apps and the phone’s location from your own devices. If you’re concerned about their mobile usage or they have experienced problems such as online bullying, you can then take action.
Street safe. Another consideration is whether your child is at risk when they’re out and about with their mobile. Buying them the latest top of the range smartphone could make them a target for theft, and unfortunately some thefts happen in school.
Another risk that children need to be educated about is mobile phone-related accidents. The rising number of road deaths amongst pedestrians has been blamed on mobile phone usage: people texting or chatting and not paying attention to road safety. Then there are the more minor accidents such as walking into lampposts, which can be avoided if their phone is in their school bag and not in their hand.
Mobile phone bills. We’ve all heard stories about how children have inadvertently run up huge phone bills that their parents must pay. Some mobile phone networks offer capped contracts so that when your child has used up their month’s allowance of calls, texts or data they must wait until the next month before they use their phone again. This can be a very effective way of teaching your child to use their phone responsibly, limit their usage and avoid nasty bills.
Unlimited or free family calls. Of course, most parents buy a mobile phone for their child so they can contact home in an emergency. Therefore, if they use up their allowance of calls or texts, they can’t contact you. So consider a contract that allows unlimited calls (many providers offer this as increasingly people don’t use their mobile for calls anyway) or a plan that allows free family calls.
Insurance: It’s also a good idea to consider whether you should take out insurance on the phone (or add it to your household insurance). As well as potential theft, there’s also a chance of damage or loss. If you sign up for a mobile contract (usually 2 years) and your child breaks or leaves their phone on the bus you’ll still have to pay it off even if they don’t have a useable phone.
We hope you’ve found this information useful. If you’re now ready to explore buying a phone for your child you may find that your employer runs a mobile phone scheme, and offers insurance cover too, which could be a good way to give your child their first phone.
Click here for more details on mobile phone schemes and how they work.
Back to index