Phone plans for kids

Is there a “right” age to give your child a mobile phone? How young is too young?

Little girl phone

In an increasingly connected world of selfies and snapchat, it’s a question that parents are being faced with even earlier. According to one study, 84% of New Zealand children have a call phone by the time they are 14 years of age.

There’s a difference, of course, between having a basic phone for emergency calls, and having the latest and greatest smartphone with access to everything. That said, Netsafe advises that New Zealand kids face various cybersafety challenges, including:

  • Sending inappropriate texts and images (including sexting) often by minors,
  • Text or mobile bullying where children with a mobile can be sent threatening messages or a video of an embarrassing moment can be widely distributed,
  • Time management issues that can be caused by kids spending more time connected than they need to, and
  • Location-based concerns where smartphones can automatically share a child’s current location on Facebook or other sites or apps.

As well as risks though, there are many benefits to allowing your child to be connected. So back to the question: what’s the right age to give kids a mobile phone?

It’s really one of those: “how long is a piece of string” questions;  Australian psychologist and author of ‘Real Wired Child’ Michael Carr-Gregg stresses that age doesn’t define maturity. He advises parents to ask themselves three questions when deciding whether their child is mature enough to have a mobile phone.

Firstly, past behaviour

According to Dr Carr-Gregg, the greatest predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, so parents should ask themselves whether their child has a good track record of making good decisions and behaving responsibly.

All kids will act up sometimes, of course, but – a bit like global warming- it’s not about occasional catastrophes here and there as much as the regular trend over time.

Boys using smartphoneSecondly, their peers

What sort of kids do your kids hang out with? Are they responsible, good-hearted kids? Do you know them? Our own kids will tend to be influenced by the behaviour of their peers (among other things), so the more responsible their peers, the more responsible they will (hopefully) be.

Thirdly, their appetite for risk

All kids like plenty of attention from their parents, peers and teaches – but how far will your kids go to get that attention? Are they risk takers – happy to do something silly for the sensation?

“If the answers to those questions are no, no and yes respectively, then the child does not have the cognitive maturity to handle this technology in a responsible way,” says Dr Carr-Gregg.

If your kids are keen for a mobile phone, and you’re inclined to get one for them, ensure that you give them some advice on staying safe online. You shouldn’t be reluctant to discuss with them issues such as cyberbullying, sexting, stranger-danger and cyber safety in general.

Plus, of course, a lecture on the importance of keeping their phone safe from theft or loss, password protection for both phone and internet – and the parental consequences of running up a huge phone bill!

Netsafe has a wealth of excellent learning tools and tips for kids and teens, both primary and secondary-school age.   Visit Netsafe for more information.

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