At what age should kids get their first mobile phone?

Angus Kidman 4 July 2017 NEWS

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44% of Australians say 13-15 is the sweet spot, but are we kidding ourselves?

The topic of children and mobile phones is frequently a magnet for poorly-thought-out commentary. "Kids should be outside playing more" say the same parents who insist on picking their sprogs up from school every day. "Mobile phones make kids more anti-social" say the parents while the kids message their friends endlessly. We're not great at consistency, or realising that the world changes.

Bearing that in mind, it's interesting to see how soon we think our offspring should be allowed to have their own phones. A recent finder survey asked people to say when they thought kids should be allowed to have their own phone. 44% opted for 13-15, which lines up relatively neatly with when high school starts. A more censorious 28% said that 16-18 was the appropriate age, while 24% opted for 10-12. Finally, a brave/technologically addicted 2% suggested that 7-9 was the right age.

Looking at these numbers, I suspect there's a certain amount of misplaced optimism. It's one thing to say you won't get your kids a phone until they turn 13. It's another thing to put up with their endless pleas to have a phone, because all their friends have one. And it's another thing again to resist the urge to let your 3-year-old play a game on your phone so you can enjoy a restaurant meal in peace.

It's also worth recognising that there's a continuum to "having your own phone". I've known parents who pass on their old phones to kids, but don't include a SIM card. That way, the phone can be used for chatting and games and YouTube, but only when connected to Wi-Fi. The SIM can come later. In that scenario, prepaid is definitely the way to go, incidentally.

There's no sense in proposing an absolute rule: kids vary. It's hard to argue that a three-year-old needs a phone with a SIM, but if your child has a long bus journey home every day, you might want them to have a phone straight away. What's important is that you've made a conscious decision, not just caved in to the pressure. But that's true of parenting in every aspect, not just phones.

Angus Kidman's Findings column looks at new developments and research that help you save money, make wise decisions and enjoy your life more. It appears Monday through Friday on finder.com.au.

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