Mobile phones: how to work out when children are ready
There are no hard and fast rules about the right age to give your child a mobile phone. But as your child’s friends start to get their own phones, your child might want one too.
These questions can help you work out whether your child is responsible enough to have a mobile phone:
- Is your child responsible in other ways? For example, does your child look after their belongings?
- Is your child reliable? For example, can your child get ready for school on time in the mornings?
- Is your child respectful to family and friends?
- Does your child usually follow your family rules? Will they be OK with rules about phone use?
- Does your child talk to you about things that worry them?
- Does your child understand phone safety? For example, do they know how to block messages and calls from people they don’t know? Do they know not to click on internet links in text messages from people they don’t know?
These questions can help you understand the benefits a phone might have for your child:
- Would a phone help to keep your child safe – for example, while your child is walking to and from school, when they need to check a timetable if they’re catching a bus or train on their own, or if they need to text you when they get home from school?
- Would a phone give your child more opportunity to stay in touch with family members or friends that they don’t see regularly?
- Is having a phone important for your child’s social life? Does your child feel excluded from conversations, events and online activities because they don’t have a phone?
- Would a phone be useful at school – for example, for taking pictures of homework or keeping track of learning and other tasks?
- Could your child use a phone for wellbeing activities, like mindfulness meditation or fitness tracking?
About responsible mobile phone use
If you’re thinking about a mobile phone for your child or your child already has a phone, it’s important to think about helping your child use the phone responsibly.
Responsible mobile phone use is about:
- developing healthy phone habits
- sticking to rules about phone use
- managing costs by keeping track of call, text and data usage
- keeping the phone charged and safe and not losing or damaging it
- being safe and respectful in calls, texts and social media posts.
Healthy and responsible mobile phone habits
The best way to help your child with healthy and responsible mobile phone use is by being a role model.
This starts with thinking about your own technology use. For example, if you want your child to spend time talking with you when they get home from school, you could make a point of switching off your phone when you get home from work. This sets a great example for your child.
It’s a good idea to talk with your child about having phone-free time regularly. Some families like to have phone-free afternoons or days for the whole family. Others try to take a no-internet holiday every now and then – for example, on a camping trip.
Rules for mobile phone use
It’s a good idea to discuss and agree on mobile phone rules with your child. These might be rules about what your child can use their phone for, where and when they can use it, and how much they can spend on usage.
Here are examples of mobile phone rules for your child:
- What: your child can use their phone to contact friends and listen to music. Your child can’t use the phone to watch movies online. Depending on your child’s age, they must ask you before downloading new apps.
- Where: your child can’t make calls or send text messages when they’re in class, but they can call and text when they’re on the bus after school.
- When: your child can use their phone during the day and early evening, but not between 9 pm and 7 am.
- How much: your child can use the plan’s monthly allowance, but there won’t be any extra payments if they run out of minutes or data.
Here are examples of mobile phone rules for the whole family:
- Mobile phones are either switched off or not used during family meals.
- Mobile phones come out of bedrooms at an agreed time.
- Mobile phones and other devices are charged in a family area overnight.
- Mobile phones are put down when you’re talking face to face with each other.
You might find it helps to create an agreement that both you and your child sign. You could make this part of a family media plan covering all types of digital technology and media use. If you choose to have a formal agreement, it’s a good idea to revise it together regularly to make sure it still meets your needs and your child’s needs as they get older.
You might also want to talk about and agree on consequences if your family’s mobile phone rules are broken – by your child, or by you.
You can guide your child towards positive mobile phone use. For example, you could encourage your child to take a photo of one nice thing that happens each day to share with you that evening, or use an app on their phone to learn a language.
Managing mobile phone costs
When your child first gets a mobile phone, you’ll probably need to help them learn how to manage costs so they don’t run up big bills. These tips can help:
- Show your child how to check how much call, text and data allowance is left.
- Help your child switch off unnecessary settings that use up data, like automatic downloads.
- Explain that your child should use wi-fi to download content like videos. This can help them avoid going over the data limit.
- Make a rule that your child shouldn’t let others use their phone.
Keeping the mobile phone safe and charged
Responsible mobile phone use involves keeping the phone safe and undamaged.
You’ll need to talk with your child about how to keep a mobile phone safe – for example, your child might need a phone cover and a screen protector. A phone finder feature can be helpful in case your child loses the phone.
It’s also a good idea to agree with your child on how you’ll deal with replacing a lost or damaged mobile phone. For example, will you or your child pay?
If your child is younger – or just a bit forgetful – you might need to remind them that it’s their responsibility to keep the mobile phone charged.
Most schools have rules about mobile phones at school. Many schools require phones to be switched off so they can’t be used during class or in the playground. It’s important for your child to stick to the school’s rules about mobile phone use.
Safe and respectful mobile phone use
If your child uses their mobile phone to communicate independently with others or access the internet, it increases the risk that your child will come across content that bothers them. It also exposes your child to risks like cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, and contact with strangers.
You can help protect your child from risky or inappropriate content and activities by teaching your child about internet safety for pre-teens and internet safety for teenagers.
You can also talk with your child about:
- managing safety and privacy settings on their phone – for example, checking that social media profiles are private and locking the phone with facial recognition or a PIN
- not entering personal details like name, address or date of birth into online accounts or forms
- not sharing account details
- accepting new social media friend requests only from people they know face to face
- checking which apps use location services and switching off unnecessary ones.
Your child needs to learn about using their mobile phone to communicate in a respectful way too. This involves not creating or forwarding nasty or humiliating images or text messages. Using a phone respectfully is an important part of being a responsible digital citizen.