When is it the right time to give your child a mobile phone?

I called home the other day, and the Wee Man picked up.

We had a proper conversation. He told me what he was up to, passed on a message to the Other Half, and then said ‘Goodbye Mummy’ before replacing the handset correctly in it’s cradle.

All pretty mundane and ordinary really, except that it’s never happened before. I sat back and reflected – he’s growing up fast. And probably, at some point soon, he’s going to start clamouring for a phone of his own.

I got my first mobile phone at 16 so my mum could check up on me, basically. I had to take the bus to school, and she was nervous I might end up lost in a cold dark street somewhere (I never did). The phone was a brick and I was in a minority – not many kids had phones and pay and go didn’t really exist.

LolliBop 2014 61But now? I see kids all over the primary school playground with phones. The Wee Man already uses a tablet, has figured out streaming Netflix on TV and even discusses basic computer programming with us! Bubby D has been using a tablet since she was 1, and Little B looks like she wants to follow in her footsteps…

Mobile phones though – they’re a totally different kettle of fish. As an adult, it seems strange that I was ever without one. But when is it appropriate to give one to a child?

I suppose the first thing to consider is why do they want one?

Do they actually need it to stay in touch and make calls? Or do they just want to mess around and play games? Right now, the Wee Man has no-one he needs to call or text – his family are always around him if he’s not at school, and his friends are always around him there. If he had a phone, I strongly suspect it wouldn’t actually be USED as a phone. And if that is the case, then a budget tablet computer would probably suffice. Check these out, for example.

But if they have a genuine need for one then that’s a different matter. Perhaps for children who live with each parent part of the week and want to be in control of staying in touch with the other parent, or those kids who DO have to get a bus or travel a long way to school (sorry Wee Man, 100 metres up the road is NOT far, no matter how much you protest it is!).

Which brings me to the second point – is it a matter of safety?

At the moment, the kids are always accompanied by one of us but it won’t stay that way forever. Back in the day I had a chargecard number for calling my Mum in an emergency. Now it’s much simpler to give kids their own phone so they can let you know when they’re stuck in snow, fell asleep on the bus or they ‘accidentally’ spent all their bus money on sweets. And of course you can stalk check up on them too!

Point number three – keeping up with the Joneses

It’s that domino effect – one kid in the class gets a phone and then EVERYONE has to have one. I’m not a big worrier about the Joneses generally, but at the same time, I don’t want to isolate my kids and have them marked out as the ‘weird ones’ like my friend at school who had no TV. It’s not a great reason for getting kids a phone, and it’s certainly not anywhere close to the main reason I’d get one either but on the plus side, at least they’d have someone to actually call or text when they did get it!

And when it comes to that point, it’s worth considering whether to get a contract or pay as you go (payg).

There are pros and cons of both – with payg, there are no big bills to worry about, and you can control how much money they spend (although they may spend it all in one day and then be unable to call or text you – not great if that’s the reason you bought the phone in the first place!). Contract phones never have this problem, but there’s always the possibility of nasty surprise bills heading your way, and if the phone gets lost or broken you’re still tied in to the contract too. Here’s some more advice on this – there are ways to cap contracts or add bolt-ons to payg, and things change all the time so it’s worth doing your research!

Finally, do you have an old phone?

If you do, then this could be the perfect opportunity to give it to your child as their first phone. It won’t cost you anything, if they inevitably lose or break it it’s not the end of the world, and you can always bling it up a bit to make it more appealing – Zippi, for instance, do some cool phone cases for older and new phones.

There is no ‘right’ time to give a child a mobile phone – it all comes down to personal choice. But it is worth thinking it through and making sure that you end up with the right time, and the right phone for you.

(And Wee Man, if you’re reading this, that time is not now. Or anytime soon. Sorry!)

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