PARENTS

Mum, I Need A Mobile Phone!

14/04/2015 18:17 | Updated 14 June 2015

Boys playing outside using mobile phone

"I don't just want a mobile phone, Mum, I need one," I overheard a tween tell her mother last week.

"Well, urr, I.... I'll talk to Daddy," the mum answered, clearly flummoxed.

For a lot of parents, mobile phones didn't exist when we were kids, so no wonder it can feel like unchartered territory when our offspring feel the need to have one.

On the one hand, this generation has grown up with technology, so it seems natural for them to have their own mobile. And it's hard to deny the sense of reassurance that parents can feel, knowing they can keep in touch with their children wherever they are. Many parents also don't like the idea of their children being left out if all their friends have phones.

But on the other hand, what might your child try to access, or inadvertently access? And what about the danger of them being on the phone constantly? Then there's the concern around whether a phone could be another way for bullies to reach your child?

Research has also shown that young people can feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of texts and messages aimed at them on social media. And many parents fear that their children's health may be affected by the use of mobile phones. Although very little is known about this at the moment, a major, government-backed study is currently underway, with the World Health Organisation stating that the research is of the 'highest priority'.The theory has been put forward that children's brains may be more susceptible because they are still developing.

On average, parents give their child an initial handset at age 11, with some 70 of kids admit they've been distracted by personal technology when crossing a road.

Lost and stolen mobiles of youngsters is also a major problem – one that many parents try to overcome by stipulating when their child can and cannot take their phone out.

Be clear about limits on talk time, adds Philippa Lowe, who got a nasty surprise when the first phone bill came. "It was foolish of me not to have set a price I am prepared to pay for credit each week. At first, my son, who is 10, used to try the old, 'I need a top up, otherwise how will I reach you in an emergency,' but I have never faltered and it's worked."

Lowe adds that although many phone companies have unlimited texting, she didn't opt for that. "I just think it could encourage him to be on his phone all the time. By having a limit on the number, he thinks twice before sending one," she says, adding that when it comes to apps, she's also strict, allowing him one game only.

Have clarity around internet usage too, say charities. Besides you making the obvious safety settings, children should understand that connecting to the home Wi-Fi is allowed, but any other sources can only be accessed with permission or as you consider appropriate.

If you feel your child is old enough to have a phone, they should also have an understanding about what cyberbullying is and also what it's not appropriate to send – such as explicit photos or sexual texts.

"You think it won't happen to you, particularly if it's the last thing on earth you can imagine your child doing, but people can take advantage of the more naïve kids, as we learned," says Helen Mash, mother-of-two.

"My advice to parents is to keep checking your kid's phone randomly and let them know you'll be doing this. It's really easy to not get round to it or feel it's invading their privacy, but I explain to my youngsters that I'm doing it to protect them as much as anything, so it's a way of keeping them safe."

Above all, don't forget that you can always take your child's phone away. "A lot of parents I know complain about how their kids use, or mis-use, their phones," says Mash. "But I'm very clear that if my children don't stick to the rules, the phone goes. It's that simple."

What are your experiences of giving your child a mobile phone?

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