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Managing Mobile Phones

Managing your child's mobile phone

Smart phones have become the essential 'toy' that everyone wants. This includes children from an increasingly younger age. Smart phones have so many exciting uses that their appeal is obvious. However, they also expose your child to a number of risks. As parents, how we manage these risks may depend both on the age of the child and the degree of trust in the parent/child relationship.

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Needing a phone

Smart phones have many functions that in our modern society we have quickly adopted as essential. These include being able to get hold of one another at any time. For parents, knowing that your child can get hold of you in an emergency when they are out is very reassuring and this very function often is used to justify the purchase of the phone. This is particularly so in the transition from primary to secondary school when children often become more independent in getting to and from school.

There is also a great deal of peer pressure around phones and having the latest smart phone can confer 'high status' in the social group. Communicating with friends through social media is increasingly important for all children but more so for girls. Again 'status' can be achieved by having the most followers or likes for your posts. Age restrictions on opening social media accounts are often ignored by young children and sometimes this is with their parents' support.

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Understanding the risks

The average smart phone has more computational power than the computers that put a man on the moon and can do a far lot more than crunch numbers. Smart phones are designed for adult users and there is an expectation that they are used responsibly with awareness of any potential risks. Children's use has even greater risk because they are more socially vulnerable and often do not make the same choices that adults would. Some of the functions and their risks:

Camera - most phones have these built in and it is easy for children and adolescents to take photos or video and share them instantly. Once shared they lose control over who sees them and what use is made of them.
Phone - this gives the child the potential to reach anyone. It also exposes your child to the potential of anyone ringing them including cold call salespeople.
Text messages - the sending and receiving of inappropriate messages can start as a bit of silliness but can become something more serious.
Internet access - parents may have 'child safe' broadband at home but may not have the same protection for their child's data connection on the phone. Even when this is in place the child may choose to connect to a wifi network that is not protected.
Social media - it can be very difficult to know who all the contacts on social media are. It can also be difficult to prevent anyone reposting anything so you lose control over who is seeing what. Sometimes as pranks children post inappropriate images of themselves or their body and these images can then be used to humiliate them then or years later. This has led to some suicides.
Gaming - playing games can be a lot of fun but there are also a number of risks. Addiction - games are designed to be addictive and for some children this can lead to real problems such as playing them after bedtime. Inappropriate content - just like games for consols there are themes, content and visualisations which you may not want your child exposed to and there is evidence that they may be harmful. Expense - some games are initially free but have additional content that requires payment. Online games may also carry the risk of communicating with unknown persons.

Managing your child's phone

There is a fine balance to be achieved between trusting your child and being invasively over-protective. Checking your child's phone is generally not something your older child or adolescent is going to be happy with. However, there are often things we need to do as parents to protect our children that they do not like and this is one of them. It is important to do this openly and to have agreed in advance that you will do this at anytime. Being acused of not trusting your child can be countered with "I trust you, it's other people I don't trust." However, you also have to recognise that your adolescent has an increasing right to privacy and that as they mature it is normal and natural for them to become a little secretive about a range of things that they begin to explore. Thus checking a teenagers phone becomes something that you want to avoid unless you have other concerns and worries about them.

If you do check a phone these are things you may want to check:

contacts - ensure that only people known to your child are there
browsing history - websites that your child has been looking at
apps - are these the ones you have agreed they can use - particularly games and social media apps
wifi connections - what connections is your child using to access the Internet

One of the best ways to keep your child safe is to agree ground rules for the use of smart phones. These are likely to be different for a young child and a teenager but both can benefit from having them written down rather than just given orally.

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Some rules you may want to consider

You need to make sure you keep your phone charged
Keep your phone safe - you are responsible for any damage
You need to answer the phone when we call you
You should only ring or answer calls from people in your contacts
Do not open texts, emails and other type of message from someone you do not know
No using the phone after bedtime
Only lend it to friends in an emergency
Don't change the password or pin to access the phone without telling us
Don't download any games or other apps without checking with us first
We have a right to check your phone to make sure you are keeping safe
Let us know if you get a message that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe

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Mobile Phone Rules

Mobile Phone Rules

This is a visual resource to support rules about mobile phone use suitable for older children.

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