NEWBURY, United Kingdom — Deciding when to give children their first mobile phone ranks as one of the toughest choices for parents or caregivers, a recent study shows. The survey involving 1,000 British parents of children between eight and 17 highlights this decision as being as challenging as selecting the right school (36%) and even more so than determining their children’s playmates (29%).
What’s the most daunting task for moms and dads? Parents say it’s deciding when their children can independently visit parks or shops, with 56 percent expressing concern.
The OnePoll survey was commissioned by Vodafone UK to introduce its new collaboration with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
Researchers found that some children are given their own phones as early as age six. Overall, the study found that 74 percent of parents and caregivers believe it’s crucial for a child to own a phone when starting high school, yet over half (56%) are apprehensive about it.
A significant 28 percent of parents struggle with this purchase, citing a lack of confidence in ensuring their child’s online safety. Moreover, 53 percent worry about exposure to inappropriate content or cyberbullying. The NSPCC observed a surge in mobile phone and online platform-related calls to its Helpline in August 2022, accounting for 10 percent of calls, indicating heightened concerns before the new school term.
Children Want Smartphones — More Than A New Puppy!
Among parents who have already provided phones to their children, 42 percent did so for safety during school commutes, while 35 percent valued keeping in touch with friends outside school. Children, conversely, are enthusiastic about getting their first phone, often requesting one from the average age of nine.
Parents report that children are more thrilled about their first phone than they are about getting their first pet or a bicycle!
Choosing the right phone presents a challenge for 21 percent of parents. Additionally, around nine percent spend five or more months deliberating the timing of this purchase. Interestingly, 48 percent would consider a sustainable choice like a refurbished phone for their child.
“Our research highlights that many mums, dads and carers don’t feel confident they know all they need to keep their children safe online or where to start with choosing their first phone,” says Nicki Lyons, Vodafone’s chief corporate affairs & sustainability officer, in a statement.
The survey also indicates a widespread lack of confidence among parents in setting up safety features on popular apps such as BeReal (93%), Snapchat (85%), and TikTok (81%).
10 Essential Safety Tips When Getting Children Smartphones
1. Set it up as a “child’s phone.” Speak to your provider to avoid access to certain content or to avoid spending too much.
2. Activate parental control on phone. Tell your provider to limit the 4/5G networks your child’s phone can access.
3. Turn on app safety settings. Set content filters, chat filters, privacy settings, and in-app purchase settings on all applications.
4. Restrict WiFi. Contact your internet service provider to set up WiFi controls for devices in your home.
5. Talk to your child. You know when your child is old enough to talk about certain topics without becoming upset or frightened. When talking about risks, be honest but try not to catastrophize.
6. Check location settings. Review location settings on favorite apps or games and remind them they shouldn’t share their location online.
7. Know about app safety settings. For example, TikTok has a Family Pairing feature that links a parent’s account with their child’s; Snapchat offers built-in parental control features, and Instagram has its Parental Guide for Teens with helpful tips.
8. Don’t forget about online gaming safety. Check the age rating to make sure it is appropriate, and adjust the settings to make sure chat and voice features are turned off. You can set limits on screen time too.
9. Report harmful online content.
10. Know where to go for help and advice.
72Point writer Richard Jenkins contributed to this report.