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LauraGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 23-Jun-16 10:37:47

When should children be given mobile phones?

Is there ever a right time to give a child their first mobile phone? Is it something that parents should worry about? Author Jane Costello reveals her own decision-making process and what it meant for her and her son.

Jane Costello

When should children be given mobile phones?

Posted on: Thu 23-Jun-16 10:37:47


Lead photo

Is there ever a right time?

When a child reaches the age of 11, choosing a birthday present is not the easy task it once was. By then, they’re no longer overcome with excitement at the prospect of a big plastic Fisher Price item with flashing lights and music. And they’re beyond flicking through the Argos catalogue, deciding they’d like every last Lego kit - including the large-scale replica of Belgium, at a cost of £899.

As my son approached his 11th birthday, there was only one gift on his wish list - a mobile phone. After all, ALL of his friends had one (allegedly). My default position was a simple: not a chance, you’re far too young.

I pointed out that I didn’t get my first mobile until I was in my twenties, although in those days they had the dimensions of a house brick and all you could do with them was make an actual phone call.

But when I stopped to think about the issue, I realised I didn’t know what would be a good time for him to have one. The fact that I instinctively felt he was too young meant little. That’s the feeling every parent has whenever their child reaches a small milestone; the first time you let go of their hand and they walk into school, or release the seat of their bike and they pedal off independently.

Faced with this dilemma, I had two choices: I could do what parents have done since the dawn of time and stick with my instincts, or I could Google it.

Still, my concern felt like a valid one. Specifically, because the capabilities of the average phone today goes beyond making calls. And, while it’s fine for me to tinker about with social media, for a multitude of well-documented reasons, it felt like we’d be crossing a line for him.

Faced with this dilemma, I had two choices: I could do what parents have done since the dawn of time and stick with my instincts, or I could Google it.

When I went for the latter, I was surprised by what I found. The debate about the best time to buy a mobile phone was both rife and divided on most internet forums. Some parents claimed that every eight-year-old in their child’s class had one. Others implied that anything that didn’t involve swotting for SATs and rehearsing their recital of Prokofiev’s second concerto in G minor was inherently evil.

What became clear was that, for the majority of parents, the year before starting secondary school was a key moment. This was a time when a child experienced a surge in independence, when parents simply had to let go a bit and not have their eyes on them constantly. In that context, having a means to reach them had its benefits.

After some discussion with my son’s father, we decided - against my initial thoughts – to go ahead and buy him one, on the condition that social media was not allowed and he could only communicate with people he knew in real life.

It’s been several months since he’s had one now and it’s clear that I needn’t have worried. He plays games on it, texts his class mates and – when he actually remembers to take it with him if he’s out at a friend’s house – I can now get in touch with him if I need to.

Other than that, it proved a bit of a storm in a teacup. But on the plus side, it takes up a lot less room than those Lego sets.

Jane’s new novel, Summer Nights at the Moonlight Hotel, is out now in paperback and eBook.

By Jane Costello

Twitter: @janecostello

Katek Thu 23-Jun-16 11:01:10

Our two eldest dgc were given one of their respective parents' old phones with a pay as you go simcard when they all went on holiday to New York last year. They were 9 at the time and this was a safety precaution in case they became separated. Parents have continued to give them the phones if they're on holiday, but dgc aren't particularly bothered about them in between. First year at high school seems to be the point at which they all seem to want phones.

Auntieflo Thu 23-Jun-16 13:39:25

I can see the plus points of a child having a mobile phone, probably when they are out and about. But, why do they need them in school time? Surely if there was a problem a staff member, i.e. school secretary, could phone a parent on their behalf. OK, carry the phone, but hand it in for safekeeping during the day, and collect it at home time. I must admit that all my children went through school before the advent of mobile phones, so apologise in advance that I don't know all the pros and cons.

Teetime Thu 23-Jun-16 13:52:21

I think it depends on circumstance and what the phone is for - is it for safety and communication or just a toy that everyone else has. Two of my GCs got them at the point of going to secondary school as they were travelling on public transport to and from school instead of with Mum or Dad. Both their schools had strictly enforced policy that phones could not be used in school time. Neither were given anything other than a basic pay as you go mobile phone.

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jun-16 14:10:37

It seems to be quite pointless, my older GS having a mobile. I recently 'lost' my DD in a large shop in foreign parts. In a bit of a panic I texted her asking where the fuck she was. And yes, I accidentally sent it to my grandson's phone. He has never mentioned it. Oviously never looks at his texts. (thank the Lord hmm)

I was expecting the answer, "Granny, I'm at Scout camp".

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 23-Jun-16 14:12:25

I think once they go out and about on their own it's only sensible to give them a mobile. With strict instructions about when they should use it.


Lupatria Thu 23-Jun-16 14:44:10

my daughter gave my oldest grandaughter her own phone [on contract] the christmas after she started at secondary school and she became more independent.
however she was not allowed skype or facebook [or any other app of that nature].
she is allowed to carry her phone in school but not allowed to look at the phone in lessons which is fair enough.
apparently they can be useful at times [with teachers' approval] to be used in lessons as a teaching aid.
my grandaughter has taken a photo of homework which has been put up on the board as it's quicker to do so than to write it down and she can also access the internet at school where she has her own account using the mobile.
as well as calls to me to ask me to pick her up if she's fallen down and hurt her ankle or if it's raining and she's forgotten her coat.
and it also enables us to be in contact with her if she's needed to be at a certain place at a certain time after school.
her younger sister, who's 10, wanted a mobile phone so her father gave her one for her birthday [parents are separated and we had no control] and she made herself a perfect pest by sitting with her nose glued to the screen playing all sorts of games. at the moment it's been confiscated as she was naughty - this was about two weeks ago and she hasn't stopped to enquire where it is! so daddy can text her all he likes - he won't get a reply!!
when she goes to secondary school i expect my daughter will get her her own contract phone like her older sister but she'll have the same restrictions on what she can download on it.

tanith Thu 23-Jun-16 14:55:42

I gave my daughter my old payasyougo phone for my granddaughter 11 to use . Its only used to Facetime her best friend who has moved away and it keeps the girls in touch and to have it on her if she is walking to and from school alone when her Mum is going to be late home from work as she can then ring me if there are any problems or when she has just walked with her friend to the local shop . Mum isn't allowed her phone with her when she is working and worries. Her absent father think she shouldn't have one till she is 16 at least.
Last week her teacher remarked on how she has matured in the last few months, she is gaining a little independence having the phone on her when out of the house and Mum is little less fraught. So I think the year before high school is an appropriate time for them.

f77ms Fri 24-Jun-16 16:54:10

When they are old enough to be out and about on their own and NEVER EVER a contract phone . It doesn`t matter how many rules you set for a teenager they will push the boundaries . You can also set a limit to the amount of credit you are willing to put in . With all the apps and downloads a child could rum up hundreds of pounds worth of bills easily . ( A friends 11 year old ran up a bill of £200 downloading things he thought were free .

rubylady Sat 25-Jun-16 04:44:55

My son, 19, has never gone over his contract phone allowances. confused

Mine probably got their first phones about the same age, 11 years old. Never had any problems with either of them with them. I can't say it's matured him though, still acts like a two year old! grin

Leticia Sat 25-Jun-16 05:38:27

Never before secondary school and then a pay as you go phone, basic with no internet. I agree- never ever a contract until they can afford to do it themselves.

Juggernaut Sun 26-Jun-16 12:46:36

Our DS had a contract phone from when he started at Grammar school.
He never went over, or even close to his monthly allowance, which was £25-00, the minimum at that time.
He could keep his phone on him during school hours, but it had to be off at all times apart from breaks and lunchtime (school rules).
He had it in case he needed to contact us, bus late, needed something in a hurry, going to a friends straight from school etc.
If we needed to get a message to him we rang reception at the school.
He's 29 now, so phones were pretty basic when he was at school, but even now I'd only allow a child a phone to make calls and send texts. All the refinements, internet, cameras etc can wait until they're older and hopefully wiser!

Carol1ne63 Sun 26-Jun-16 17:51:49

I think they're really handy when the kids move up to secondary school. We live in the country so it's handy for them to have them incase they miss the school bus or anything. I agree PAYG is best incase they lose the phone or it's stolen from them.

annodomini Sun 26-Jun-16 19:07:42

When we were young, there were phone boxes. As Guides we were told always to have 4p available for a phone call in emergencies. Now would you know where to find a working phone box? No? Neither would your GC because they are very few and far between.

annodomini Sun 26-Jun-16 19:08:26

Sorry that 4p should, of course, be 4d.

Anniechip Tue 28-Jun-16 21:55:20

I agree that children should not have their own phone until going off to high school. Definitely a PAYG one, DEFINITELY no social media or camera. I work in a primary school and I know one child who has got the very latest in mobile phone technology, iPhone 6 is it? He goes to an after school club, is collected by his mum or gran from there and is not allowed to go out on his own. He is 8 years old and lives opposite the school!!!! Why oh why does he need one? confused

sweetcakes Sun 03-Jul-16 12:32:33

He probably doesn't need one Anniechip some parents have more money than sense, a basic phone is all they need no Internet access because of social media, grooming, bullying and everything else that comes with it.
All you need is to be able to contact them In a emergency and do they need a camera what about sexting!! ?

Sussexborn Sat 07-Mar-20 13:21:29

Mobiles are compulsory at GSs school. They rent them at a cheap rate if carers can’t afford one. I don’t think the decision makers realise that on a very limited budget it means £8 of food that can’t be paid for.

Caused huge problems settling GS2 in to seniors as he was constantly texting DD with pitiful messages just as she was starting a new job. It’s finally settled down fortunately but has taken lots of time and patience from a number of people.

Pretty sure that without the mobile he would have had a miserable 10 minutes then moved on as we all have to learn to do,

SalsaQueen Sat 07-Mar-20 18:30:36

My 8 year old Granddaughter has been asking her father (my son) for a mobile 'phone. He said no, not until secondary school. The mother (my son isn't with her) has promised to buy my Granddaughter one for her 9th birthday, in June. I think it's ridiculous at that age.

ElaineI Sun 08-Mar-20 13:35:09

My children got them at 13 - the old brick kind! Was going to wait but there was a very bad winter and they were 2 hours late home from school - roads closed etc. I was frantic but couldn't even drive as snowbound. Very very kind school bus driver lent the kids his mobile to ring parents and manage to drive each child home to their street before finishing. After that they each got one on 13th birthday. I signed up for bebo (social media thing at that time) and then Facebook when it became the thing so I could monitor any bullying etc and they all agreed to that.