Hidden danger of the mobile phone in your child’s pocket

With mobile phones becoming ever more sophisticated, and mobile phone users ever younger, are the dangers increasing? Grace Hammond reports.

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It is a most modern irony: by giving their children mobile phones for safety, parents could be putting their youngsters in danger.

A survey has revealed that increasing numbers of children, some as young as six years old, are now being given mobile phones.

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A recent study by The Marketing Store found that 73 per cent of British 10-year-olds own a mobile, as do 24 per cent of eight-year-olds and 6 per cent of six-year-olds.

The reason behind this might be because mums and dads simply succumb to nagging, but more often than not the reason parents are giving children mobile phones, according to the survey, is to alleviate their own fears when the kids are out and about.

The reason it is perhaps ironic that the mobile is an instrument to keep children safe, is because a mobile much more than just a phone these days.

An additional survey by mobile phone insurance company, mobileinsurance.co.uk, showed that 58 per cent of parents admit they don’t keep an eye on what their children (under 10) are actually using their mobiles for, raising concerns that children may be accessing unsuitable content on the internet, or being bullied via their mobiles.

When asked why they didn’t check, nearly half of parents said they never got round to it, more than a quarter didn’t want to intrude on their child’s privacy, and 13 per cent said they trusted their youngster.

Jason Brockman, director of mobileinsurance.co.uk, warns parents they have to be more alert. “It’s not a case of invading children’s privacy, it should be seen as a way of keeping them safe,” he stresses.

Unrestricted internet access, talking to strangers and bullying aren’t the only problems with children’s mobile phone use either. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year revealed that mobile phone theft victims are most likely to be youngsters aged between 14 and 17.

To try to reduce the chances of children’s mobiles being stolen, it’s a good idea to get an old, cheap handset – perhaps one passed down by a parent or an older sibling. Sadly though, whatever the type of mobile a child owns, figures suggest using any one puts them at greater risk of being injured or killed in a road accident. The road safety lobbying group RoadSafe and AXA car insurance recently found that 11 years old is both the highest accident risk age for child pedestrians – and the average age a child receives their first mobile phone. By the age of 12, 25 per cent of kids admit they’ve been distracted by personal technology when crossing a road.

Jeremy Todd, chief executive of parenting charity Family Lives, says: “It’s clear that mobile phones can be a potential distraction for children as they walk the streets, with texting and social media messages a particular concern.

“Children may be unaware of the risks around them when out and about on busy streets, so it’s vital that parents sit down with them to discuss the potential risks.”

Todd acknowledges that giving a child a mobile phone can be a difficult decision for parents, and urges them to ask themselves whether their child really needs a mobile phone, and whether they’d actually be able to use it in an emergency.

“If you’re getting a phone, pick one you feel your child can manage. There’s no point in having an ‘all singing, all dancing’ phone if they aren’t going to be able to work it,” he advises.

So, if you have decided it is right for your child to have a mobile, what boundaries do you need to set? Firstly, rules should be made about the time spent talking on the phone, so you don’t get astronomical phone bills. Parents need to talk openly to children about extra costs that might be incurred if they use the internet for example. Also speak openly about cyberbullying, and encourage your children to talk to an adult if they have any concerns. Todd also suggests parents might want to ban the mobile phone in the bedroom at night, as research shows that no-one sleeps as soundly if the mobile is by the bed.

The mobile should also be banned at other times, he says, like meals, or when children are supposed to be doing their homework. Parents of older children should also ensure they understand the potential dangers and consequences of sending explicit photos.

“Basically though, if you have any doubts about your child using their mobile, monitor the situation and let them know that you’ll be checking.”