5 Questions you should ask before getting your child a mobile phone

A decade or two ago it would have seemed over the top to buy your tween or teen a mobile phone. Not today!

Smartphones have such a profound impact on modern communication that today mobile phones are considered something of a necessity.

Ten years ago, you could still find a public payphone. But you’d have quite an adventure trying to find one today. More and more Australians are ‘cutting the cord’ at home too, with fewer than 48 per cent of homes holding onto their landline phone.

With that in mind, if your child’s sports practice finishes early they can’t use a payphone to get in touch with you. Neither could they call to ask your permission to go shopping with their friends after school. A mobile phone is certainly a practical way for children to stay in touch.

However, just because mobile phones are becoming more popular in tween and teen lives, doesn’t mean taking the plunge is a straightforward decision for parents. Here are some questions you should consider before buying.

Does your child need a phone?

There’s a big difference between needs and wants. Children especially have trouble differentiating between the two. They might tell you that because a friend has a phone, they should have one too.

If your child is unlikely to be apart from your outside of school hours, getting them a mobile phone might not be a priority. If, however, your child has lots of extra-curricular activities – dance lessons, swimming lessons, soccer practice, netball practice, athletics training, drama classes, etc. – a mobile phone could prove vital in conveniently communicating with you.

Depending on your child’s age, you might want to consider a ‘phone call only’ mobile phone, removing the ability to text message or use the internet from the phone.

Is your child good with responsibility?

Age doesn’t necessarily equal maturity. Your child’s maturity is often a good way to judge if getting them a mobile phone is a good idea. When it comes to mobile phone use, responsibilities for your child could include:

  • sticking to family rules about phone use
  • adhering to school rules about where and when the phone can be used
  • managing costs by keeping track of calls, texts and data usage
  • keeping the phone charged and safe (not losing or damaging it)
  • being respectful and safe during calls, texts and on social media.

You might want to have a conversation with your child about responsible mobile and technology use before handing over a phone to them.

What does safe mobile phone use mean for your child?

Having a smartphone means more than just making and receiving calls. If your child uses the internet to communicate with others, it also increases the risk they will access content that might not be appropriate for them. It also exposes them to things like cyberbullying, sexting and contact with strangers.

There are parental controls you can put in place to help you keep an eye on your child and what they are doing with their mobile phone. You might want to talk to your child about internet safety as well as:

  • managing the safety and privacy settings of their phone
  • not handing over personal information such as name, address or date of birth into online accounts of forms
  • not accepting new social media friend requests if they are from people they don’t know face-to-face.
  • checking which apps use location settings and switching off any that are unnecessary.

Does your child understand the costs?

All mobile phone plans are different. Some offer unlimited text messaging and call minutes, while others have set minutes, text messages and data each month. Ensuring your child understands the costs involved with their mobile phone and what will happen if they go over any limits is essential.

Some options that could help you control the additional costs include getting your child a pre-paid phone, setting up parental controls, and establishing a monthly budget for your child.

Do you need to set phone expectations and are they realistic?

Your child should have a pretty thorough understanding of what constitutes acceptable use for their mobile phone. Some parents go through the motions of drafting a mobile phone contract with their child that has clear rules and consequences for mobile phone use.

A contract might not be your parenting style, but it’s still important to discuss with your child what your expectations are before they’re given their mobile phone. That could include things like they must answer any phone call from their parents at any time.

You also need to have in place boundaries for when they might break the rules. Be prepared to enforce those rules too.

Once you’ve recognised that your child is ready for a mobile phone of their own, allow yourself the time to set the ground rules and talk through steps you’re going to put in place to keep them safe. Doing this gives your child the right stepping stone to use their mobile phone with confidence and independence.

Written by Calista Bruschi

When she’s not moulding Play-Doh or dancing in the living room with her children, Calista Bruschi is an editor and writer. She has oodles of experience working on newspapers, magazines and websites. Calista likes to organise and be organised. She loves being a mum, Italian food, wine, sport and stationery. She hasn't sleep a full night in more than five years and is powered by coffee.

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