Unlike driving a car, there’s no law on when you can buy your child a phone. You’ll be the one paying for the contract or pay-as-you-go SIM, so a child of any age can have a phone.
But the question for many parents is when is an appropriate time to hand them a phone?
We’re primarily talking about smartphones of course, since they bring internet access - and its associated dangers - along with plain phone calls and text messages.
What are the risks?
We talk in depth about the dangers of the internet in our guide to keeping kids safe online, but with unfettered access to apps, there’s a chance your child could be groomed or see inappropriate material.
You can also find out a lot more on the NSPCC website. https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/
Of course, you can mitigate some of the risks by ensuring that the child does not know the password for the app store on the phone. This way, they can’t install apps without your knowledge, and must get your approval before installing any new ones.
You should research apps yourself to decide whether they’re appropriate. You should also talk to the child and make it clear they must never give out personal details such as their name, address, school etc. unless you say it’s ok.
So what age should I give my child a phone?
Ultimately, there is no ideal age at which you should give your kid a phone. The more important question is what they need a phone for and whether they’re mature enough to use and look after a phone.
They may want one, but not necessarily need one.
It’s not uncommon for children at primary school to have phones, from around age 6. But most parents wait until kids are around 11 or 12: the time they start secondary school.
Making their own way to and from schoolisn’t the only reason to have a phone, of course. You might want to give your child their first phone when they are allowed to leave the house on their own (again, there is no age set in law for this), or if they attend out-of-school clubs or are part of a sports team.
Which type of phone is best?
A basic ‘feature’ phone will suffice for communication: you don’t have to buy an iPhone just to be able to call or text.
There are advantages of a very cheap phone: it doesn’t matter if it gets lost or broken. Plus, since there’s no internet access, there’s no chance of them using unsafe apps or browsing the web unsupervised.
There are other good reasons to go for a basic model: while any phone is a target for thieves, an expensive looking-smartphone in the hands of a child is easy pickings.
Conversely, a phone can also act as a deterrent – if a child is talking to you on their phone while they walk home, you’ll know immediately if there’s a problem. Plus, a phone can be used by the child or someone else in an emergency.
If you decide to go for a smartphone, make sure it has GPS. You can then use this along with a suitable app or setting on the phone as a means to find out exactly where they are at any time.
As we explain in our keeping kids safe online guide, it’s crucial to set ground rules about phone and internet use, and also explain any monitoring, location or parental control software you might be using.