At what age should junior get a mobile phone?

Get top tips from the experts, so that your offspring use their smartphone safely, both online and off.

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Smartphones
are a necessity today especially among gadget whiz kids who are more likely to use their phones to “chat” with his pals than talk to them face to face.

And unless they own a smartphone, junior will now find it more difficult to meet up with their friends. After all, a lot of how they communicate is done on the phone through messaging applications like WhatsApp and social media. Notes Enon Landenberg, founder of parental control app, Bosco, “A child who does not have a phone is left out of the communication stream and will most probably be — in the end — out of the group.”

Of course, owning a phone can also expose your kiddo to a variety of online — such as cyberbullying — and offline risks like smartphone addiction. So, the decision to buy them a phone isn’t one you should take lightly.

Dr Lim Boon Leng of Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, points out that a smartphone gives your child access to an “alternate world” that can be dangerous. That’s why you need to supervise your child’s smartphone and Internet use and restrict access to adult content.

This is why Dr Lim suggests that you should let your mini-me use the phone under your supervision when they are aged 10 or older. Full phone access should only be granted when they are 15 and after they show maturity and restraint in their on- and offline behaviour.

“A child who does not have a phone is left out of the communication stream and will most probably be — in the end — out of the group.”

However, other experts SmartParents spoke to agree that there is no “right” age for junior to own a smartphone. Advises digital literacy educator and parent coach at SgVillage, Carol Loi, “It’s a matter of watching out for their developmental readiness [as] children mature at different ages.”

Landenberg adds, “The truth is that at a young age — from 7 to 9 — the phone is used by parents to communicate with their children.”

Touch Cyber Wellnesssenior coach Shem Yao states that what’s more important is that your child is able to manage the responsibilities that come with owning this electronic device. The experts list the factors you should consider before you buy a phone for your kiddo.

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* Is the phone a want or a need? What will your kiddo be using the phone for? Your young ’un shouldn’t get a smartphone just because they want bragging rights to the latest handset. Yao advises that you talk to junior to understand if they have practical reasons for owning a smartphone.

* Is junior responsible for his own belongings? The latest smartphones on the market can cost a pretty penny. A basic handset can set you back $600 or more. If junior frequently misplace their belongings, buying a phone for them may turn out to be a costly mistake. What’s more, any personal information might fall into the wrong hands.

If junior frequently misplace their belongings, buying a phone for them may turn out to be a costly mistake.

* Is junior mature enough? As smartphones are really just another way for your child to access the Internet and social media, digital literacy skills are a must to ensure safe use. Dr Lim notes that they will be able to stay out of trouble if they can tell the difference between right and wrong info. They should also know how to navigate the Web safely, so as to steer clear of unsavoury content like pornography.

* Are you ready? You need to keep up with the latest trends in technology to keep junior away from online threats. Landenberg points out that malicious smartphone applications get updated all the time. “Parents should pay attention to applications that allow anonymous communication between people because they may lead to malicious activity.”

If junior checks all the of the above boxes, then they are ready to own their first phone. Follow these expert-approved steps to ensure that your child stays safe both on- and offline:

1. Narrow the list of possible phone models Chances are, your kiddo doesn’t need the latest smartphone model. Select one that you already know how to use, in case you need to check the contents of their phone. Yao notes that you should get your child a phone that meets his needs. “Anything more is something to be discussed and managed as the child gets older and is able to manage the use of smart devices better.” Landenberg notes that you may want to start with a cheaper phone, perhaps a previous model. That way, your child will be able to prove that they won’t misplace an expensive device.

2. Decide on a phone subscription package that best suits your child’s needs There are many different post-paid mobile plans that are targeted at students. Take the time to compare their benefits before you pick one to suit junior’s needs. Yao notes that you may also want to consider getting a pre-paid or stored value plan instead. Your child will have a fixed value for his phone calls, text messages and even data usage. Yao explains, “This forces your child to monitor and moderate their smartphone usage.”

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3. Sign a gadget usage “contract” A contract ensures that both parties know the rules for responsible gadget use. Yao advises you to also outline the penalties if junior doesn’t follow the rules. “Parents should tell their child that their inability to manage the [responsible use of] the device will result in the withdrawal of privileges.” Remind your child, too, that his use of the device is a privilege not an entitlement. Landenberg states it is very important to make this clear to your offspring, so he’ll know that you can look or check the contents of his phone for his safety.

Remind your child, too, that his use of the device is a privilege not an entitlement.

The contract should include information such as:

* When your child is allowed to use the phone and for how many hours a day.

* Junior has to allow you to view the contents of his phone for whatever reason.

* You have the right to set your child’s passwords, you’ll also be the one to initiate any changes to the password.

4. Install parental control apps on your child’s phone While you may feel like you are snooping on your child, tracking your child’s usage of phone apps is a good way to encourage mindful usage of the device. Yao urges parents to consider using a parental control app, especially in the early stages of your kid’s device use. Landenberg notes that his parental control app Bosco gives parents real-time insights to their child’s smartphone. This may lessen the likelihood that junior might become a victim of cyberbullying and abusive online harassment.

5. Remember to practise good mobile phone habits, too Your child will be looking to you to model healthy smartphone habits. If you say that no phones are allowed around the dinner table, then everyone should abide by this decision, starting with you.

Photos: iStock

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