parent opinion

"I need to cure myself of Tween Phone Phobia. If only to get my daughter off my phone."

Optus
Thanks to our brand partner, Optus

Chirrup. Chirrup. Chirrup.

My phone’s blowing up and I’m in the middle of a meeting.

Bleep. Bleep. Bleep.

I’m flicking away the messages as I try to record a podcast.

‘Hey! Matilda! Can you talk!’ a Giphy of a bulldog puppy wearing sunglasses and a lolling tongue pops up as I’m trying to type a work email.

My phone, it seems, is no longer my phone.

I am not Matilda. But my phone is full of messages for her. Faces of little girls and their puppies, taco emojis and fluffy kittens dancing.

Yes, my iPhone has been invaded by my tween.

Matilda is 10. All she wants, in the entire world, is a phone of her own. And that’s not at all surprising.

After all, I got my first smart phone the year she was born, and she has spent her entire life looking at me, looking at it.

 




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Not in a bad way. Oh no, I remember to put it down occasionally, to stare lovingly at her, to notice what she and her brother are up to, to look at the view, to pat the dog.

But all her life she’s known that my phone has FUN in it. Movies. Games. Books. Friends. Photos. Music.

I can keep trying to tell her she’s not missing out on anything, that she can wait for all of that, but who am I kidding? If our phones were not so much fun, would we constantly have one on our person at all times?

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Obviously, judging by the constant unfurling of my WhatsApp feed, some of M’s friends do have phones already. And yet, I am terrified of putting all that power in my little girl’s hand.

In my mind, it’s a gateway to the adult world. All the good things mentioned up there – art and connection and entertainment and laughs – but also, the darker things. The judgement of others. The eyes of strangers. Things about the world she can’t yet understand – that she shouldn’t yet understand.

And yet, she pulls and pulls at the reins – dying to be out there, to start tasting her first try at independence. Choosing what she watches, who she talks to, what she hears. That line where I get to curate everything she consumes has already been crossed.

I think I need to get over my tween phone phobia. Because, apparently, it doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There can be places in between.

My daughter only just got her Pen Licence for her handwriting. Such a quaint milestone, but one that had her puffed up with pride. And apparently, now, she could get a Phone Licence.

Savvy telcos understand that these first steps into connectivity need to be small to start with for nervous parents like me, and Optus’s path is thoughtful and cautious.

For a start, they have a new family plan that brings together four different SIM cards into one convenient plan, and for the data to be shared between them (not necessarily equally, as any parent would be happy to hear).

holly wainwright
A selfie taken on my phone - soon to be her phone. Image: Supplied.
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Then there's a Phone Licence and a Phone Agreement, both made between child and parent about responsible use of this exciting new thing.

So, what's in the "agreement"? Well, its terms are entirely up to you. It's the written rules your child agrees to in return for your old phone with all its new data.

For me, I am hyper-aware of how quickly so-called school friends can turn to frenemies. And I am not under any illusions that my daughter is always a considerate angel, crusading for kindness, no wonder how many lectures on the subject I impart (plenty).

So my contract with M will start with rules of engagement.

It might say, 'I will not send mean or threatening texts or comments.'

And how would I know? Because the next rule would be: 'I will share my phone's password with my parents and they can check it at any time.'

Another might be about phone time and boundaries: 'At 8pm the phone will be taken off me and kept 'til morning.'

Something else about making sure that one of the very primary needs parents have for giving their child a phone - keeping track of the little bugger. 'I promise to keep my phone charged at all times, and to always answer their messages and calls quickly.'

You can have as much fun with this contract as you like. I'm considering adding in a ban of watching YouTubers with questionable haircuts playing games you could be playing yourself and learning something... But that's just me.

The point of the Phone Agreement is that it's whatever you want it to be, but it's the alternative to handing my M a box with the world in it and telling her to go her hardest.

But what's the protection once they walk out of your sight with your old faithful phone, cracked screen and all, with the ink still drying on the Phone Agreement?

Well, Optus' Family Plan - the one that bundles four SIMS into one plan - includes a subscription to a parental control app called McAfee® Safe Family.

With that, and not too much study on my behalf, I can limit time on apps and games, keep an eye on my kids' phone use, including sites they've visited and apps they're using and when and for how long.

Digging into all this is rattling my certainty about the magic number when my daughter should get her heart's desire.

It turns out there's a middle ground between my phone pinging its head off with tween-talk every day and my adventurous daughter being set loose with adulthood in the palm of her hand.

What have you found works for you and your child when it comes to phones?

Image: Supplied.

Optus

Bring your family together. New Optus Family Plan with 4 SIMs and 250GB of monthly data to share. Created to help your family discover, learn, laugh and share as one.

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