CHOOSING when to give a child their first mobile phone is one of the hardest decisions a parent or carer will make in their child’s life, according to research.
A poll of 1,000 parents with children aged between eight and 17 revealed they find it equally as hard as choosing which school their children should go to (36 per cent), and more difficult than deciding who they should be playing with (29 per cent).
The decision that mums and dads struggle the most with is when their children should go to the park or shops by themselves at 56 per cent.
The research, conducted by Vodafone UK to launch its new partnership with the NSPCC and offer a new platform of resources to support parents with buying a first phone, revealed 74 per cent of parents and carers feel it is important for a child to have a phone when they start secondary school.
But over half (56 per cent) worry about them having one.
Three in 10 (28 per cent) parents find buying children their first phone difficult because they state they don’t feel equipped to keep their children safe online.
And 53 per cent say it is because they are worried about them seeing inappropriate content or being bullied online.
The NSPCC reports that in 2022/23, 10 per cent of calls to its Helpline focused on mobile phones or online platforms took place in August, highlighting a spike in online safety concerns ahead of the new school term.
Of those parents who have given children a phone, 42 per cent did so to keep them safe when travelling to and from school.
And 35 per cent felt it was important for their child to keep in touch with friends outside of school.
But while parents are worried about a first phone, children are excited, asking for a phone multiple times a week, from an average age of nine.
When the time arrived, parents said children were more excited about getting their first phone than their first pet or first bicycle.
However, 21 per cent parents find it hard to know which mobile phone to pick for their children.
And nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) spend five months or more discussing when to buy their child their first phone, according to the OnePoll.com data.
Interestingly, 48 per cent said they would consider the sustainable option and choose a refurbished phone to give to their child.
As part of its partnership with the NSPCC, Vodafone is launching a growing online platform of resources here to help keep children safe online and provide top tips for buying a child their first phone
Nicki Lyons, chief corporate affairs & sustainability officer at the telecommunications company said: “We know a child’s first phone is a big moment for families – exciting for children but bringing with it new concerns for parents and carers.
“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.
“That’s why, for well over a decade, we’ve been committed to helping them navigate being online with their children.
“And now, working with the NSPCC, we’re supporting parents with more practical resources and tips to give them the tools and confidence they need when their children step into the online world with their first phone.”
The survey also revealed most parents don’t feel confident setting up safety features on key applications that children use, such as BeReal (93 per cent), Snapchat (85 per cent) and TikTok (81 per cent).
Kate Edwards, associate head for child safety online, said: “At the NSPCC, we are doing everything within our power to ensure that children are safe when they enter the online world, including campaigning for a more robust online safety bill.
“We know a child’s first steps, first words and first day at school are all exciting moments for families, but getting a first phone is one which can be tempered by fear.
“This is why our partnership with Vodafone is so important, together we can support parents to understand how to keep children safe.”
Top 10 tips when getting a child their first phone
Here are the top 10 safety tips when getting a child their first mobile:
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 mobile
Contact provider to limit the 4/5G networks your child’s phone can access.
3. Turn on apps safety settings
Put 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 catastrophise.
6. Check location settings
Review location settings on favourite 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 screentime too.
9. Report harmful online content
If you are concerned about something your child has seen online, you can visit the NSPCC page about reporting online safety concerns here or call the NSPCC helpline.
10. Know where to go for help and advice
You can learn more about safety settings on apps, games and devices via Vodafone’s Digital Parenting Pro website.