By Zaheer Khan, a specialist in technology related security, an idealist but most of all indulges with computers, apps and new phones when not running around with his Light Saber and his kids through the parks of JoBurg

Children and young people have always been keen to grasp the opportunities offered by new technologies, and mobile phones are certainly no exception.

So, what is an appropriate age to buy your child a cell phone? More importantly is it safe for children to use and what are the long term effects on them.

Buying a cellphone for under 12 yr olds makes no sense because:

  • at this age parents drive them around and have total responsibility for them.
  • these kids will not develop the social skills necessary for the real world as they constantly engage with technology and not with those around them.

I am not opposed to limited usage of a borrowed parents’ or siblings’ phone. Parents who see a specific need to introduce it to their children earlier should  take precautions to ensure that it becomes a tool and not just a toy that becomes abused



Ways to Introduce a cellphone responsibly  :

  • As a tool for family communication where a cell phone allows parents  to do errands or other work  while their kids are busy with activities in the knowledge that their child can contact them if plans change.
  • As a tool to teach financial responsibility  and commitment
    If a child wants their own phone, let them enter into a contract with a service provider and take responsibility for paying the monthly fee until the contract expires.  Make it clear that the payments continue until the end of the contract even if the phone is lost or broken.  The phone can also be used as a disciplining tool where its privileges are taken away while the responsibility of paying the bill still continues.

Be aware of the risks involved which include:

  • Inappropriate content and contacts.
  • Revealing too much personal information
  • Cyber bullying
  • Sexting
  • Location based services
  • Premium – rate services and controlling costs
  • Late-night texting
  • Mobile phone theft / crime
  • Health concerns

Use parental controls
Computers and other digital technologies like games consoles and mobile phones have parental controls. These let you do things like:

  • setting PIN codes on the phone so that other SIM cards cannot be used in the phone
  • enabling a phone PIN to block phone usage by a third party ,
  • enabling parental controls on the SIM card and handset via your service provider
  • enabling cellphone location tracking and automatic wiping should the phone be lost or stolen.
  • blocking selected websites and email addresses by adding them to a filter list
  • set time limits for use
  • prevent your child from searching certain words
  • Check the equipment’s user manual or manufacturers’ websites to see what controls you have access to. Contact your internet service provider (ISP) or mobile phone operator to find out about any child safety measures they offer.

Setting rules with your child

The best way to set reasonable rules for your child’s phone use is to :

  • use the  phone yourself to learn how they use it.
  • talk often about what they use the phone for & who they talk to
  • discuss and set ground rules together
    • do not allow
      – Inappropriate behaviour ie being on the phone when having a guest over, or texting at the dinner table
      – use of abusive or threatening language in any online communication

To keep your child safe you should tell them not to:

  • give out personal information to people they only know online – this includes name, home address, landline and mobile numbers, bank details, PIN numbers and passwords
  • supply details for registration without asking for permission & help from you
  • visit chat websites that aren’t fully moderated/supervised
  • arrange to meet an online friend in person without your knowledge & permission (if you agree to let them, you should always go along with them)
  • give any indication of their age or sex in a personal email address or screen name
  • keep anything that worries or upsets them online secret from you
  • respond to unwanted emails or other messages
  • any picture-sharing via phone
  • right to review texts and messages

Parents should also remember that most smart phones are doors to the internet and that any risks posed by the internet similarly apply to cellphones as well.

In conclusion

We need to rely on our kids to teach us about the dangers facing their generation (technology and otherwise) – we teach them the basic values and morals, they teach us about technology, and together we figure out how to bring our values and morals to the new technology/situations in a way that is reasonable and not overly restrictive.

  • Click here to find a list of related articles on zaparents.
  • Note: If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the uniquely detailed free weekly newsletter for parents in Gauteng – Jozikids – or KwaZulu-Natal – Kznkids.
Send this to a friend