The Christmas tradition has been for parents to buy decorative lights to create a lively atmosphere in their homes. This age-old practice may see a change this year according to research findings by News Corp. Close to 50% of all parents interviewed were weighing their options on whether to gift their children smartphones for the holiday.
Three in five children aged 12, already own a mobile phone. In some cases, the research found that even young primary school students are increasingly acquiring phones.
While not explicitly restricting parents from giving their children smartphones, technology experts are cautioning them to consider their readiness to access technology. Parents are also advised to sign a contract with their children to put the rules clear on what is expected of them.
Safety, Independence, and Personal Preference Among Deciding Factors
In a research conducted by Telstra, most of the parents who were debating whether to buy their children smartphones or not, cited independence and safety as their greatest concerns. Over 60% of parental smartphone buyers were motivated by the need to ensure their children were safe. In this category, the modal age at which children owned smartphones was 12. However, there are those who were getting smartphones at a much younger age.
In terms of gender, 20% of girls owned a smartphone by age 4 compared to boys who caught up at age 5. By the time children get to 10 years, the percentage of phone ownership doubles.
When children join high school, or travel independently to school, many parents feel the need to buy them smartphones. That said, 10% of parents interviewed admitted to giving in to their children’s demands for a smartphone. When children become independent and have to make their own way to school, the element of safety enters the decision matrix. Thanks to the prepaid plans, parents find it cheaper to connect with their children while away and this gives them peace of mind.
Jackie Coates, the general manager Telstra Foundation, believes that the right time to give a child a smartphone is purely a personal decision. However, she insists that parents should put in place clear rules governing the ownership before giving the devices over to their children. She recommends a mobile phone agreement to be drawn up and signed by both the parent and the child.
Inasmuch as parents want the best of behaviours from their children with regard to phone usage, they also have a role to play in fostering the right phone habits. Children learn a lot from their parents which means the latter must watch their steps even more carefully.
What Parents Must Consider before Buying that Smartphone
Synthesising information from the above studies, certain factors stand out which can guide parents at the decision-making point of buying a smartphone for their children.
- Old versus New Model – Since phone ownership comes with a lot of excitement, the children may not care much if it is a newer or older model. Parents can leverage on this and get a budget phone for their children.
- Phone Plan – Getting a prepaid phone plan is a much cheaper option than a postpaid plan. At this age, children love experimenting a lot. By the time the phone bill comes at the end of the month, it may not be a surprise that you have exceeded your postpaid plan limit.
- Phone Care – To protect the phone against damages from falls and other impacts, invest in a sturdy casing and a screen protector.
- Smartphone Handling – Smartphones can be addictive and as such parents should ensure their children do not take their devices to the bedroom.
- Rules and Responsibilities – While children in this age group cannot legally enter into binding contracts, parents should draw up, sign, and enforce an agreement outlining the rules and responsibilities to be followed. This provides a framework on how to engage children in smartphone usage.
While most children get their first cellphones at age 12, a child’s level of maturity and responsibility is much more important. Parents must continue playing an active role in their children’s lives and smartphones should not substitute face-to-face communications. With agreements signed up between parents and children, accountability on phone usage can be enforced.