What’s the right age to give your child a mobile phone?

2 Apr

On a recent night out in Sydney’s Rocks area I saw something highly unusual. A phone box. An actual, proper phone box – the kind you might expect Dr Who to jump out of – except this one was bright red. And I wasn’t the only one who found it intriguing. There were hordes of Gen Y-ers lined up to use it – no doubt thrilled by the discovery of this unusual concept – a public phone. It got me to thinking. At some point (probably a lot sooner than I’m anticipating) my daughter is going to ask me for a mobile phone. I think it’s inevitable that she will have one – unless I prove to be an iron-willed mummy. But at what age?
At the moment, she’s only 2 – so I’ve got a few years to think about it. I hope! My instinct has always been that she can have a mobile phone when she’s old enough to pay for the bills herself. But I’m quickly realising how laughable that position is becoming. I had a childhood in which mobile phones did not exist. There was a yellow pay phone in our school – and that’s what we used, if necessary, to contact our mums. I rarely remember using it – after all – who wants to shell out a hard-earned when 40c when that same 40c could buy you two carob-coated liquorice sticks at the tuck shop. Those days are long, long gone. The other day I witnessed a gaggle of 11 year olds in a huddle, all madly texting on what looked like I-Phones. It was outside a private school. Unless they have a serious lawn-mowing racket going, I don’t think they paid for their own phones. According to the bureau of stats, 76% of 12 – 14 year olds have a mobile and 22% of 9 – 11 year olds. So, it seems the average kid gets a phone round the age of 12 or so. That seems really young to me. I understand why parents do it – they want to be able to contact their kids to find out where they are (assuming they tell the truth!) and vice versa – and payphones aren’t an option. (Funnily enough, I don’t remember my parents ever being terribly concerned if I was a little late home from school) There’s also the issue of peer pressure – if every other kid has a phone, you don’t want your child to be the odd loser out. BUT – my main concern is this – that giving my little girl a phone will be like giving her an IV drip for bullies to infiltrate my precious daughter’s developing brain. It seems we see stories in the media nearly every week about some poor child whose life has been ruined by internet and phone bullying. Interestingly, the stats tell quite a different, and reassuring story. As of 2009, only 3% of child mobile phone owners were reported to have had some kind of personal safety or security problem, including bullying or threatening behaviour, receiving inappropriate material in text or media messages, and strangers asking for or gaining access to the child’s personal information. But I do have other concerns about children using mobiles – in particular, the issue of how mobile phone radiation affects the developing brain. The science is still cloudy on this – but just this week I heard academic, Dr Devra Davis, speaking on ABC radio about  the dangers. “The bottom line is most people do not appreciate a cell phone is a two-way microwave radio, that the signals get twice as far in to the head of a child as an adult, and studies very consistently show long-term heavy use increases the risk of brain cancer,” she states. So – what’s my final position? One thing I’ve learned about parenting is that you can’t take a final position, until you’re facing the situation – it’s like being pregnant and swearing you’ll never use a dummy. When you have a screaming baby in your arms, you tend to change your mind. But, I think it will really depend on my daughter – her personality, her maturity levels, and her level of self confidence. And – no doubt peer pressure will play a role. In the meantime, I think the best thing I can do is to keep my own mobile phone use to a minimum – and maybe she’ll realise that no-one HAS to be contactable 24 hours a day.

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One Response to “What’s the right age to give your child a mobile phone?”

  1. Anonymous April 2, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    or worse still…your kid actually uses the phone and the internet to bully somone else…so what is worse?another blog another time maybe.

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