Things to consider when giving children their first smartphone

Does your primary schooler want their first mobile phone? Has your teenager got their eye on the latest smartphone?

Vodafone looks at some of the things to consider before you hand over a shiny new device.

Is my child ready for a smartphone?

There’s no minimum age limit for mobile phones; it’s a personal decision. Many children get mobiles around the age of 11, when they start secondary school, and 90% of teenagers in the UK now have one.

While there are numerous advantages to having a smartphone – including being able to stay in touch with mum, dad and other family members more easily – it’s worth asking yourself things like: Do they really need a smartphone? Are they mature and responsible enough to have one? And what are their school’s rules on smartphones?

Which smartphone and tariff should I choose for them?

Your son or daughter might well have a particular smartphone on their wish list but it’s a good idea to look for devices that let you manage the phone features yourself – the iPhone provides built-in parental controls called ‘Restrictions‘ and the Samsung Galaxy has Kids Mode for example.

You can find advice about putting parental controls on your child’s devices on Vodafone’s Digital Parenting website and in the Internet Matters interactive step by step guide.

How much will it cost? 

When it comes to tariffs for your child’s phone, see if you can get a price plan designed with families in mind. Some plans cover multiple SIMs, which means everyone in your family can have a device of their own and you can control each person’s data allowance from one place (e.g. Vodafone Red+).

It’s also worth setting some rules for your child’s smartphone use in terms of how often they use it and what they use it for. Premium rate services (such as competition lines) and using their phone when they are on holiday abroad can quickly add up. Check with your mobile provider for specific costs – Vodafone provides advice about managing costs on its website, for example.

How can I help my child stay safe and secure?

Having a smartphone is a big responsibility for any child so you’ll find lots of advice on Vodafone’s Digital Parenting website, including articles about digital privacy and reputation.

If bullying is one of your biggest concerns, take a look at The Diana Award’s anti-bullying guidance on page 28 of Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine, check out the #BeStrong Online emojis and let your child’s school know about the Be Strong Online resources for teachers, which have been developed by Vodafone and The Diana Award.

How much screen time is the right amount?

It’s an individual choice for every family but, as a general rule, it makes sense to encourage a healthy balance between screen time and other activities, such as sport and seeing friends.

Smartphones are great for socialising and entertainment but you might want to set some limits on your child’s screen time, such as switching devices off when they’re doing their homework and not taking them to bed. Some devices and apps include time limit features to help you do this.

If you don’t want your son or daughter to be on their phone 24/7, one final word of advice: take a little time away from your own devices. Switch your mobile off when you’re having dinner together and don’t be tempted to take a peek when you’re helping them with their school project. Family time is precious; those work emails and WhatsApp messages can wait.

Six things you can do straight away

1. Get involved: Sit down with your son or daughter as soon as they get their new phone and have a look at the different features – download some apps, check out the camera and send a few messages together.

2. Set boundaries: Establish some rules about when and for how long your child is allowed to use their smartphone, which apps and websites they can access, who they can contact and how they should behave on their phone and online. Check out how Carrie and Marco have done this for their families.

3. Use safety tools: Set up parental controls on their smartphone so you can block access to inappropriate content and put time limits in place. Check out Vodafone’s guide to parental controls or Internet Matters interactive step by step guide. For more information and don’t forget that not all public Wi-Fi has filters switched on (look for the Family Friendly Wi-Fi logo to be sure it does).

4. Protect their privacy: Consider whether you’re happy for your child to share their location with others via Bluetooth and location services within apps and have a chat about the privacy tools that are available on services like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

5. Minimise costs: Limit access to apps and in-app purchases and set their phone to default to Wi-Fi whenever it’s available so that you don’t get a shock when your bill arrives.

6. Avoid theft: Explain to your child why they should look after their phone like they do their purse or wallet – it’s valuable both in terms of cost and the personal information stored on it.

Get them to set a passcode and auto-lock on their screen and to keep a note of their phone’s IMEI serial number (you can find this in Settings > General or by typing *#06# into the phone) in case it gets stolen. Get Safe Online has lots of useful advice about mobile security.

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