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. And in NSW, the Department of Education recently introduced a new policy restricting the use of smartphones in primary schools and allowing high schools to put in place their own policies around smartphone use. So, before you buy your child a phone, check with their school first to find out what their policy is on having and using the phone at school.
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. Make sure your child is aware of any policy or rules about phones at school and make sure your child understands what is acceptable when they are out in public or on public transport. It's also a good opportunity to talk to them about pedestrian safety and not using their phones when walking or catching public transport.
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 provided by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner 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.