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Six questions to ask before buying your child a mobile phone.

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.

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You can minimise risks by teaching your child about appropriate us of pictures and videos, and about the legal implications of sexting.

Lead by example and discuss the importance of respectful behaviour online – when you comment on social media, post photos etc, model respectful language.

Also make sure that your child is aware of features such as geolocation, which can identify a phone’s physical location and add “geotags” to photos. To keep your child safe, consider switching off locations services that aren’t needed.

Talk to your child about the age restrictions of games and social networking sites and apps. Some games are 18+ because their content is unsuitable for young people and they may find it disturbing or upsetting. Most social media platforms require the user to be at least 13 year of age – ask your child why they think that rule is in place. Discuss the possible risks young people could face if they are playing and interacting in the digital world in places and spaces designed for teenagers or young adults.

 How up-to-date are you with technology?

Parents need to understand the device and the responsibility they have given their child. Children and parents use phones very differently. Children are exploratory and are interested in trying out the latest apps and games. It’s important that you keep up-to-date with the apps that your child is using, such as when privacy settings change, so you can help educate your child.

Does my child make good decisions?

Does your child normally make good decisions, or are they more impulsive? It is important to have conversations with your children about good decision-making and the consequences that can come with bad decisions. For example, talk to them about dangerous phone behaviours, such as talking to strangers, bullying and sexting.  You may also want to set up parent controls on their phone.

And remember, like anyone who is learning, they will make mistakes – use those opportunities to help them learn responsibility and consequences. Technology is a fact of life: help them to be great digital citizens of the future.

Lisa Woodward has been a Life Education NSW Educator for the past 20 years. Life Education is the largest, independent, Australian, health and drug education provider for school children aged 5-13 years. Through our pre-school and secondary school programs, we also reach children as young as 3 years old and as old as 17. Our program addresses a range of issues including cyber safety, decision-making, personal safety, healthy lifestyles, nutrition, and drug and alcohol education.

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