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Thinking of buying a mobile for your tween or teen? Are they old enough?

No doubt, your kids have told you that everyone else at school already has a phone, and in fact, ACMA research found that 80% of Australian teenagers (aged 14-17) are now using a smartphone.

The advice from experts can be confusing when it comes to smartphones and kids as differing opinions are strongly held.

While many schools today are embracing technology in the classroom and bring your own device programs are common in Australian high schools; some experts maintain that smartphones can be an unnecessary distraction to learning and make children vulnerable to cyberbullying.

Ultimately, deciding when to give your child a phone comes down to the right choice for your family. While many parents wait until high school, some parents will choose the final years of primary school to give their children a mobile phone. Often parents are concerned that their children have a means of getting in touch while travelling to and from school or attending after-school activities.

Some parents may give their child a smartphone (often the parent’s old phone) and choose to activate parental controls or install parental control software to monitor their child’s use of the device or social media and apps. Others may choose to provide their child with “dumb” phone for talk and text use only. Older teenagers may receive the latest device and be trusted to use it responsibly.

In any case, it is important to talk to your child about how they will use the phone and agree on some family rules for appropriate use. Also, check the school’s policy on phones at school and make sure your child understands what is acceptable when they are at school or out in public.

 A smartphone provides access to the internet so it’s also important to talk to your kids about staying safe online. And if they will be using social media apps such as Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook, it’s a good idea for parents to become familiar with these platforms and how they work and what privacy settings are available. Most social media apps, such as Facebook and Instagram, require a child to be 13 before they can sign up. The iParent website is a great resource for parents to find out more about the technology kids are using and how they can use it safely.

Once you have decided to buy your child a phone, you will be faced with the choice of not only which phone but what type of plan.  Prepaid services can be a good option for children to help manage spend but it is important to remember to re-charge regularly so the child is never left without credit. And if you decide to go post-paid, ensure your child understands about mobile data use and limits. Moneysmart has some excellent resources for kids to learn about mobile phone plans, advertising and social media use.

The NSW Department of Education’s SchoolAtoZ website has some excellent advice for parents about choosing a mobile phone for kids.

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Final NTP results cannot confirm mobile phone cause cancer in humans

The long awaited final results of the decade-spanning US National Toxicology Program on radiofrequency energy exposure has found no consistent effects in male and female mice and rats exposed to mobile phone signals for their whole life (2 years). However, in a sub-section of the study, researchers found that at the highest doses for the longest periods of time, cellphone radiation might cause a rare cancer in male rats. “High exposure to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in rodents resulted in tumours in tissues surrounding nerves in the hearts of male rats, but not female rats or any mice, according to draft studies from the National Toxicology Program (NTP),” said a press release from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences where the program is headquartered.

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Mobile tips for School leavers

Most schoolies will be keeping in touch with parents via their mobiles and so we think it's important that parents stay engaged via SMS or social media with their kids so that they know they can reach out for help if they do get caught in a sticky situation.

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Interference to mobile networks - Buyer Beware!

Interference to the mobile network can cause calls to drop out, data speeds to drop and impact on network performance. In the worst case, it can prevent someone else from making a call to Triple Zero in an emergency. The ACMA has now made available a consumer factsheet on interference that explains some of the common causes of interference and what you should do if you are contacted by a mobile network operator about interference to their network.