“No child in primary school needs a smart phone. None. Never,” cyber safety expert and former police officer Susan McLean is starting her day and, as she sips something – judging by her energy I’m thinking it’s coffee – she tells me over the phone her thoughts on the ‘right’ age to allow children a smart phone.
“Parents who buy their child a smart phone in primary school are trying to be their child’s best friend. What kid wants a 40-year-old best friend?” she continues. “They don’t need it and they are too young to understand the risk. The consequences can be devastating.”
McLean has seen it first hand. Her first case involving the safety of children online was in 1994. It was a group of Year Eight school girls targeted by cyberbullies. “We know online bullying starts the moment children have access to the internet. It can start in grade two,” she said.
She has seen the work of online sexual predators. She has seen young kids sexting. She has seen children get themselves into trouble with the law by doing something stupid or taking inappropriate photographs of others. “Young kids often don’t understand the consequences of their actions. Something they think is funny might actually be harmful. The age of legal liability in Australia is 10.”
How to get your teens off their phones at night. Post continues…
Research out of US, released by data analysis firm Influence Central last year, found 10 is the average age children are being given smartphones. It’s a stat likely reflected in Australia, and it’s two years younger than the average age of 12 seen in 2012.
McLean says the excuse parents so often use – that a smartphone is a safety measure – is “rubbish”.
“What’s going to happen? Your child’s walking down the street, approached by a predator, and has time to pull out their ‘safety’ phone and call you? It’s just unrealistic,” she said.
“There is nothing wrong with having a ‘dumb’ phone in the drawer at home, for your Year Six child to take with them to the movies so you know how to meet up afterwards, that’s okay. But a smartphone is not a safety measure. It’s bad parenting.”
The numbers are alarming.
When Jesse Weinberger, internet safety speaker and author of The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket, surveyed 70,000 children over the last 18 months, she reportedly found that sexting begins in fifth grade and children as young as eight will use smart devices to access pornography.