How young is old enough for a phone?
Children are getting their first hi-tech gadgets earlier and earlier — exposing themselves to risks
A survey earlier this year by marketing company Influence Central found that the age at which parents in the US give their children smartphones or other mobile devices is dropping — the average child gets their first device at 10 now, compared with 12 in a previous survey in 2012.
The survey of 500 women found that half of the kids in their families were already on Facebook and Instagram by the age of 12.
Another study, by Professor Elizabeth Englander, a psychologist at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, showed that more than 12% of 20 000 eight-year-olds surveyed in the state had mobile phones.
Parenting expert Nikki Bush says the same trend is evident in South Africa. “The single most common ‘official’ reason for parents giving a child a cellphone is for safety and security,” she said. “The most common ‘unofficial’ reason is that the parents have finally given in to their children’s nagging.” Bush said that if parents chose to give an eight-year-old a phone, the device should be a basic one that offered only voice calls and SMSes. “If you give a child of that age an internet-connected device with chat and app functionality, yo u ’re almost guaranteeing tears,” she said.
“The Massachusetts study found that 20% of eight-yearolds with phones had experienced cyberbullying. “At best, you’re still expecting little children to take responsibility for an expensive device
that their parents have often not mastered.” She said even 10- year- olds should have only basic phones, but noted that smartphones were becoming the norm for kids this age. “Parents have a responsibility to understand the parental controls on the device, and to ensure that children only access age-appropriate content. A strict budget on voice and data must be imposed.”
From 12 onward, the pressure is on to get a decent smartphone that will allow a child to coordinate their social life through chat apps. But smartphones expose children to online bullies, child predators and sexting and can be addictive distractions from schoolwork.
Naledi Mboyisa, 9, from Cape Town received her first phone about four years ago, even before she could read or write. Her father, Cedric Mboyisa, said the decision to give Naledi her own phone was made after “observing and determining her level of intelligence and understanding of concepts”. Now Naledi has W h at s App and says she wants to keep her messages to herself. “Some girls
need privacy. I mean they [parents] don’t allow us to read their messages,” Naledi said. But her father insists on having free access to her phone. Social media analyst Yavi Madurai said some parents set up social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter for their children. “If you don’t have an issue with posting pictures of your kids online, then setting up social media accounts in their
names and letting it serve as a repository of pictures, events, and memories is an option, but giving them access is the issue.”
She said deciding at what age to do this depended on the maturity of the child — “as with anything else, like age appropriateness of wearing certain clothes or heels, going to nightclubs, having their first boyfriend/ girlfriend”. Madurai said she would probably allow her daughter access to her social media accounts at age 16.
Media Monitoring Africa director William Bird advised parents to ensure that their children knew what they could be getting into online, and what pitfalls to avoid on social media. “I strongly encourage parents to closely monitor activity, especially with younger children. The best rule is to ensure that you learn from your child about the tools as well so you can help them.”
Rules for smarter phone use
USING a smartphone presents risks and opportunities. Setting a few ground rules will provide peace of mind for you and your child:
– Set a password for the phone and stress that they are not to share it with anyone but you;
– Add important contacts that are necessary for daily and emergency use;
– Set up an e-mail account for older children;
– Establish rules — when and where they are allowed to use it and what they can do with it;
– Go over the school’s phone policy together;
– Establish rules for internet access, app downloads and in-app purchases; and
– Discuss the costs of using the phone and how you will contain these.
—Source: Nikki Bush