Is your Child Ready for a Mobile Phone?

It’s your call

There are many factors that will influence your decision over whether or not your child needs a mobile phone or is indeed ready for the responsibility that goes hand in hand with such a bold move to independence. Perhaps you are struggling internally between your desire to know your child is safe and can contact you right away should the need arise, yet you also worry about the dangers of putting such a powerful communication tool in the hands of your child. The dangers of the outside world are getting ever closer as your child grows and becomes more independent. A mobile phone can seem like yet another step towards that world.

If, like many parents you’re struggling with your decision, you may have some very real concerns driving your decision. What if your child rakes up a huge phone bill, somehow manages to turn off the credit limit or worse still, has no credit left if they need to call you urgently?

How will you manage the use? Is it fair to worry that your child may be sending midnight messages to her friends when you believe she is tucked up in bed fast asleep or what if someone else is sending her messages in the dark of night? These are all very real fears. Others may worry that their child will start to lose interest in school work and will opt for hours on gaming apps or other more interesting mobile distractions.

There are greater worries still. What if, your child sends a thoughtless message or picture that cannot be ‘unsent’ once it is out there? What if someone is in contact with your son and you don’t know who they are or you fear that they have ulterior motives for contacting him?

These are all very real fears that parents consider during their decision making process. You wouldn’t be doing your job as a parent if you didn’t cover every base and consider all the risks before going ahead. Have you discussed your concerns with your partner, a friend who has a similar concern or has already given their child a phone? Do as much research as you can before you make your decision. Are you even considering this option because you feel it is the right time and you want to be in touch with your child now that she is becoming more independent or has your child asked for a mobile because her friend has one?

Research shows that children who are in possession of their mobile phones overnight do answer or send text messages when they would normally be reading or sleeping. More worrying is the concern over ‘sexting’ which involves sending picture or text messages with sexual connotations. More children admitted to sending or receiving these types of messages when compared with the number of parents who believe their children had done so.

While there is no getting away from the idea that our children are moving with the times, are ahead of us in terms of their knowledge about information technology and communication, we must also consider that as human beings, we are driven to connect. Mobile phones take us one step closer to achieving this so it is inevitable that your child will want a mobile phone and that at some point, you will believe that it is the right step for the right reasons.

Consider the positives now. If you’re worried about your child out with their friends, you’re able to send a quick message and receive a reply to put your mind at rest. Perhaps you’re running late and you’re worried that your child will be scared or concerned that you are not there when you said you would be, send a text or give them a quick call. Equally, they can make a call to a friend or family member if they cannot reach you but need to speak to someone urgently, even the police or ambulance service if necessary.

There is the added benefit of staying in touch as a family. With the Apps available today, you can easily create family ‘groups’ so that you can all send secure messages that can be seen by all and responded to by all. This can help you to stay connected as a family in a way that was not previously possible. As your child moves from tween to teen, family communication or time together can seem to be a bit thin on the ground. From this point of view, it is a great way to keep connected and stay in touch as a family throughout the day or night.

Once you decide that the time is right and you’re ready to give your child a mobile phone, consider a parent-child ‘contract’. You may laugh now but in the future, you’ll be glad you put the rules in place early on. The boundaries are clear and if your child does not use the phone responsibly or uses it for means other than those set out in your ‘contract’ the phone and rights associated with it, are removed until your child has learnt the lesson about responsible use.

Sign on the dotted line

When you’re ready to allow your child to have a mobile, talk to them about the fact that you will be setting out a contract for use, just like the one you need to sign with a provider. Responsible use is important and following the ‘rules’ is part of the process. You may want to allow your child some control over this as they will be far more likely to stick to and remember the rules if they’re the ones who put them down on paper in the first place.

Encourage your child to think for a week or so before you give them a phone, about what constitutes fair and safe use. What is the reason you are giving your child a phone and what do they feel would be fair use? From there, you have an idea of your child’s expectations and they can understand your concerns in advance.

There is always room for negotiation. Once you have decided on your list of essential rules, rules that may not be broken under any circumstances, you can invite your child to add in some of their own or argue their reason’s for opposing some of yours. Once you are both happy that you’ve settled on a set of rules that allows you to keep your child safe while still allowing them some of the independence that comes with owning a phone, you can print off a written copy for both of you to sign.

You may want to consider some of the following as a guide:

1. Set a credit limit or bar certain numbers from the phone at the outset.

2. Decide whether or not your child will have internet capability on the phone and if not, ensure that the phone you provide does not allow this function

3. Ensure that your child knows that it is not appropriate to send pictures or messages that contain photographs or content that could compromise their integrity or get them into trouble – demonstrate this by saying to your child that you should never send anything that you wouldn’t want the whole school to see.

4. Clear usage policy such as no mobiles in bedrooms or when at home, mobile phones are placed in a drawer.

5. Ensure that your child is road safe, remind them of the importance of not using their phone when walking as this leaves them open to the dangers of what is going on around them (traffic, road works, bikes, other pedestrians etc…)

6. Ensure that phones that have GPS location or social network sites, don’t let others know your location, mobile number or other personal information

7. Encourage fair use when your child want’s to top up credit. It is important to teach your child about limits.

8. Check your child’s bill regularly, you may also want to do spot checks on messages sent and received. Check with your provider what safeguards there are for parental control.

9. Discuss using messaging in anger. Rather discuss any issues with people face to face. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to a person’s face and even then, be certain that it is not damaging or hurtful.

10. Allow your child to prove that they are responsible. If they break the rules, ensure that they are aware of the consequences. Remove the phone for a pre-determined length of time that fits the act and ensure that your child is aware of the consequences of not following the rules you’ve made together.

Most mobile phone providers offer parental controls. This allows parents to monitor and restrict the content that children can access. Check that this services is activated and regularly ensure that it has not been disabled. Discuss your concerns with your phone provider, they can offer the most up to date service information that will help to put your mind at rest. Your provider is not likely to be able to directly filter content that your child receives on their phone directly. This includes texts, apps and picture messages. They can restrict internet browser content.

Your child’s phone may be able to access wi-fi hotspots so even if they don’t have a data package on their phone, be aware of the phone’s internet capability. There are a range of parental control apps that you can download. These vary in price but are ideal for filtering out unwanted content. You can install anything from basic blocking apps to full on monitoring.

Finally, talk to your child about phone safety. Keeping it out of sight to ensure that they do not become a target for theft and ensure that your child knows what to do should their phone go missing. Use a password to protect phone access too, this will help to make it more difficult for thieves to access your child’s phone, giving you more time to report it lost or stolen.

Children ultimately want to be responsible, remind them from time to time and parents responsibly by checking your child’s phone and setting reasonable limits on use.

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