Mobile phones: is your child 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.
If your child says she wants a mobile phone, you could talk to her about why. What does she want to do with it? Do many of her friends have phones? Try to understand why she feels it's important to have a phone. These conversations will help you decide whether you're comfortable with the idea.
When deciding whether your child should have a mobile phone, think about your child's level of maturity, and the risks and benefits a phone brings to your child's day-to-day life.
Level of maturity
You can work out whether your child is responsible enough to have a mobile phone by thinking about some of the following questions:
- Is your child responsible in other ways? For example, does your child look after his belongings?
- Is your child reliable? For example, does she come home at the time you've agreed on?
- Is your child respectful to family and friends?
- Can your child talk to you if he experiences things that worry him?
- Does your child understand about not giving strangers her phone number, not clicking on internet links, and blocking calls from people she doesn't want to speak to?
Benefits of a phone
These questions can help you see what the benefits of a mobile phone might be for your child:
- Would your child benefit from a mobile phone when he's without adult supervision - for example, while he's walking or catching the bus home from school?
- Would a mobile phone give your child more opportunity to stay in touch with family members or friends that she doesn't see regularly?
- Does your child feel excluded from conversations and events with friends because he doesn't have a mobile phone?
If you decide that your child is ready for a mobile phone, some guidelines for responsible phone use can help ensure that your child's phone becomes a positive part of her life.
Types of mobile phones for children and teenagers
Most of the time, a child's first mobile phone is a family hand-me-down or an inexpensive handset.
You might choose a cheaper mobile phone with no internet access, rather than a smartphone, for your child's first phone. This can be a good idea if your child has a mobile phone only for safety reasons - for example, so that he can contact you if he needs to.
As children get older their lives and interests get more complex. Your child might want to use her phone to listen to music, take pictures, watch movies, play games, find train times, or have a space to explore, express herself and communicate with friends. Your child will need a smartphone for these uses.
It's also a good idea to think and talk to your child about other things that go with smartphone use, like app store accounts. To start with, you might decide that your child's phone and app store account are registered in your name or as a family account, so that you can keep control of purchases.
Mobile phone plans for children and teenagers
Mobile phone plans can either be prepaid or postpaid.
It's a good idea to look into a few plan options and discuss them with your child.
And when you decide on a plan, it's also good to talk with your child about what will happen if he uses all the prepaid credit or goes over the monthly allocation. For example:
- Will you pay extra?
- Will your child pay extra?
- Will your child be without calls, text and data for the rest of the month?
If your child wants or has a smartphone, you might consider turning off the mobile data until your child is older and you're confident she's a responsible digital citizen. If you turn off mobile data, your child can go online with her phone only when she has wi-fi access. This can help her learn thrifty phone habits and avoid using her phone without thinking.
Prepaid mobile phone plans: pros and cons
With a prepaid plan you pay a monthly fee up front. This gives you a set amount of phone calls, texts and data per month. These plans might include unlimited calls and texts but not unlimited data.
Here are some of the pros of prepaid plans:
- Your child can't exceed the allocation for the month.
- You can manually top up if your child needs extra for that month.
- There are no lock-in contracts.
Here are some of the cons of prepaid plans:
- You need to buy a mobile phone outright.
- You need to renew the plan monthly or yearly.
It can be a good idea to start with a prepaid plan. This can help you find out what kind of user your child is before you lock into a contract. For example, you'll see how many texts he sends each day, and how much data he uses.
Postpaid mobile phone plans: pros and cons
With a postpaid plan you agree to pay a monthly fee for the month's usage, usually as part of a long-term contract. This gives you phone calls, texts and data. These plans often include unlimited calls and texts but not unlimited data. Plans are often for 1-2 years.
Here are some of the pros of a postpaid plan:
- The phone can be bought as part of the plan.
- The plan automatically renews monthly for the term of the plan.
Here are some of the cons of a postpaid plan:
- It's easy for your child to overuse the phone and go over the monthly limit. This can result in large bills.
- Providers usually charge significantly higher rates if you exceed the monthly limit.
- If the phone is lost, broken or otherwise can't be used, and it's not insured, you still have to keep paying according to the agreed contract.
If you opt for a postpaid plan, it can be a good idea to choose one with no lock-in contract. This makes it easier to change plans while you work out what suits you and your child's needs.
Look for postpaid plans with bill capping. This means you can set a maximum monthly spend that you can afford.