Your child’s first mobile phone

Christmas is an exciting time when many children get their first mobile phone. Families either purchase a new phone or pass down older phones as they upgrade to new devices.

If you are looking to give your child their first phone, before getting into the different makes, models, and contracts, it’s important you have a clear understanding of how your child will use the phone and how it will benefit your family.

While the main reason for getting your child a phone might be for safety when they are independently travelling to and from school and other activities, smartphones offer other benefits too, from researching homework, accessing favourite programmes, taking pictures and videos, playing games, as well as keeping up with friends and other communities.

When it comes to buying children a mobile device, parents are best placed to know when their child is ready. New research from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) found that almost half (46%) of Australian children aged between 6 to 13 years use a mobile phone—up from 41% in 2015.

Regardless of age, if you do buy your child their first phone this Christmas, you should speak to your child about how they use their device and work together to understand how to safely manage their usage.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) has five key suggestions for parents to consider when giving their child their first mobile phone:


1.  Be aware of parental controls available

Today’s children are growing up surrounded by mobile technology and all it has to offer. While the benefits of technology are clear, there are some aspects of smartphone use and access to the internet that demand both awareness and engagement from parents and caregivers.

It is important to stay informed and actively engage with children about how they are using mobile devices.

Before handing over the phone that enables your child access to the internet, you should look at what type of parental controls you can activate on the phone.

Parental controls will allow you to restrict access to inappropriate content, as well as also restrict the use of apps or even allow you to restrict usage to certain times of the day. While controls can be set at the device level, there are also various software packages available that allow you to set controls on home wi-fi or across devices used by the family.

Operating systems (including Apple and Android) also have in-built parental controls that can assist in limiting access to internet content, as well as setting parameters for usage and apps.

While these tools can be useful in helping keep kids safe, it is also very important to stay in touch with how your children are engaging with the online world – what they are doing online and how they are using all the digital devices they have access to.


2. Protecting your child’s privacy

Making sure and helping your child understand how to safely manage their privacy on their mobile phone is imperative.

When they first get their mobile phone and set it up, work together to explain how to manage their private information and passwords. Talk to them about only giving their mobile number and personal details for messaging apps and social media to trusted friends who they know in real life and trust.

When it comes to social media, it is essential that their devices PIN or passwords for social media accounts are not shared, not even with their friends. These security features are key to making sure that their phone and accounts are secure. When they use social media, they should be aware of not sharing too much personal information in posts, such as their address, name of their school, current location or holiday plans. They should also consider limiting their friend’s list on social media and setting their profile to private, so their profile and posts can only be seen by people they know and want to see it.

Most importantly you should also talk to your child about stranger danger online. Not everyone is who they say they are online. Unfortunately there are people who can pretend to be someone else, including in online games and forums, so it is essential to work with your child to help them understand not to connect or respond to anyone online unless they really do know them.


3. Set screen time limits

Screen time has become a normal part of life for most children and teenagers. When you give your child their first phone, you should consider how you will manage their screen time.

As well as access tools in the device parents can negotiate screen time limits based upon the needs of their child and manage screen time by replacing it with other non-technology / screen activities such as physical activity, reading, creative play, and social time with family and friends.

As part of managing screen time, it’s also important that parents and caregivers set the example in terms of screen time.


4. Understand cyberbullying

Today’s kids are tech-savvy. Your children may know quite a lot about mobiles, apps and social media. But there’s also a lot you can do to help them be aware of issues like cyberbullying and help them understand how to use their mobiles safely and responsibly.

Cyberbullying is most common in late primary school and early high school and many young people have experienced it, so it’s worthwhile talking to your child about how to manage cyberbullying – including asking them to tell you if they are concerned about online behaviours.

Talk to your children about how they are using their phone to communicate with people and familiarise yourself with the privacy tools and settings of these platforms to make sure your children use them appropriately and can protect themselves.

Before giving a child access to a phone, it is also good to teach them about the many forms of cyberbullying and how they should manage a cyberbully if they are ever targeted. Advise them not to respond to cyberbullying, but rather stay calm and let you know when it happens, so you can plan appropriate next steps, such as unfriending or blocking the person or potentially informing their school.

Keeping an open line of communication with your child about all aspects of the mobile and internet environment including possible concerns can help them feel comfortable in coming to speak to you when they feel uncomfortable about something like a cyberbully.

It’s good to revisit cyberbullying and cyber safety regularly to keep the lines of communication open and remember that as your children grow, the issues that they face on-line will continue to change.


5. Knowing school policy on mobile phones

Mobile devices are a useful way to communicate quickly with your children in emergencies. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence. There is often concern expressed around the potential misuse of mobile devices during school that could disrupt learning or make the environment less safe for students.

State education departments, school principals and administrators, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, are best placed to determine appropriate policies for the use of smartphones and other mobile devices at school and in classrooms. So, getting in contact with your children’s school about the measures and policies they have in place will help you understand whether they will even be allowed to bring their phone to school or how and when it can be used while at school, especially if you ever need to reach your child during an emergency.

The use of mobile devices in schools is increasingly common as a tool in delivering education, so learning to effectively manage mobile devices is a valuable skill for students to learn. If you have set boundaries and helped your children develop good mobile phone habits early on, this will help ensure that their phones are a positive part of their life at home and school.