By Lisa Woodward – Life Education NSW cyber safety Educator
Why does your child need a mobile phone?
A lot of parents ask “What’s the right age to buy my child a mobile phone?” There is no right or wrong age – rather it’s based on what your child’s needs are.
Start by asking your child why they think they need a mobile phone. This can be a great opportunity to teach your child that they don’t have to have a mobile phone because “phones are cool”, “everyone else has one” or “I will look like a loser if I don’t have the latest iPhone”. A phone should not be a status symbol for a child but a communication tool.
There are many positives to giving your child a mobile. They are a great way for you and your child to contact each other, and can give you peace of mind and help keep your child safe. Mobile phones can also promote your child’s sense of belonging and connection by keeping them in touch with their friends.
When we discuss mobile phones with the children in our Life Education lessons we often ask the question “why do you think a parent would want a child to have a phone” and the children always know the answers: “to help keep us safe”, “to let them know if I missed the bus”, and “so they can contact me”.
Who will be paying the phone bills?
To help avoid large phone bills, discuss costs in advance with your child. Starting with a prepaid plan is a good way to set a monthly budget. Help your child to learn responsible consumer behaviour and understand how to stick within their budget. If they go over they will have to wait until next month to use their phone.
Also alert your child to hidden costs – for example, the cost of downloading music or apps, buying ringtones, and SMS competitions.
Have you established rules for using the mobile phone?
It’s a good idea to set some guidelines before you buy your child a mobile phone. When and where is your child allowed to use the phone? For example, to avoid cyber-bullying and sexting risks, it’s a good idea not to allow mobile phones in children’s bedrooms at night: many families set up a charging table in the living room and all phones and devices stay there overnight – even the parents’ phones! This can be hard (I know!) but it is an excellent way to model safe behaviour and avoid screen time when our brains need to wind down for sleep.
To avoid overuse of mobile phones, think about other opportunities for incorporating ‘screen free time’ into your child’s routine. And have you agreed upon consequences if your family’s mobile phone rules are broken?
Have you thought about online safety?
Using mobile phones can expose teenagers to cyberbullying.
As awkward as it may feel to us, it is really important that we have those difficult conversations with our kids about inappropriate content, how we can avoid it and what we should do if we accidently stumble upon it.