I recently heard that a kid, close to my heart, was getting a smart phone for his 11th birthday and I have to admit I was horrified.
According to these international stats “Cell phones are kids’ new must-have accessory”
- Cell phones are the #1 form of communication for teens (Pew, 2010).
- More kids have cell phones than ever before, including 31% of 8- to 10-year-olds, 69% of 11- to 14-year-olds and 85% of 15- to 18-year-olds (Kaiser, 2010).
- Teens text more than they talk — averaging 3,146 text messages a month, compared with 203 calls (Neilsen, 2010).
- 1 in 3 teens use their phones to browse the Web (Harris Interactive, 2009).
Even with these facts, my gut feeling is that 11 is still just too young. I realize that there are situations where it’s convenient for kids to have phones – most importantly if there’s an emergency, but also to let parents know if tennis practice is running late, or that they’re safe and hanging out with friend X. The problem that I have with kids of this age having access to cell phones is the responsibility that we put on them by doing so, and does the convenience of these children having a cell phone positively outweigh the risks that they are exposed to.
“When you hand kids phones today, you’re giving them powerful communications and production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to Web sites. They can broadcast their status and their location. They can download just about everything in the world. If you think your children’s technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to the gap. Times may have changed, but parenting hasn’t. We’re still the parents. And it’s our job to say “no, not yet.” Source: http://www.commonsensemedia.org.
It’s a tough reality that has difficult questions which have to be asked and addressed. Cell phones are here to stay, information is accessible every where we look and let’s face it – life is very, very different from when we were 11 to what 11 year olds are faced with today. But lets not forget that they are still kids and lets keep them kids for as long as we can!
My fear is that even if these cell phones are provided for a specific use – emergencies or for gaming for example, well – all it takes is one dodgy ‘free download’ of a game for your child to be exposed to an environment that is extremely unsuitable for a child. Once a child has been exposed to let’s use the extreme example of porn in the internet (and let’s face it, we’ve all stumbled on it when searching for something completely unrelated!), there’s just no taking it back. Kids are also naturally curious and don’t realize the impact of being exposed to this adult world can have on them.
I think it’s also important to ask what the phone is being used for – if it is for emergency contact or to phone a handful of people when necessary then are you limiting the airtime per month? If it’s going to be used as a gaming platform then certainly limit airtime and make it known that the phone is meant as a gaming platform and nothing else. Whatever the reason, make sure you are comfortable enough with the handset so that you can monitor the activity on the phone on a regular basis.
I asked @Vodacom whether it was possible to protect kids in this space and their response was that it ‘is possible 2 implement protective measures 2 protect children from being exposed to illegal & inappropriate content’ – and provided this link to further information on their Adult Content Management page. (It’s a free service).
Speaking of Adult Content Management – did you know that Facebook has an age limit of 13 years? According to research that a colleague of ours recently did in South Africa ( “Generation Y in South Africa – A Short Study) 50% of the Gen Y that were interviewed (average age of 18) use facebook as a search engine – makes you think! What you use Facebook for and what your 13 year old use it for could be two completely different scenarios.
Which leads me onto the next question – perhaps the answer isn’t just whether your kids are ready for the responsibility and awareness that being exposed to the internet brings, but also, perhaps more importantly how are you teaching your children to interact in this space. What responsibility are you, the parent, taking on? Yes, at times it seems that technology is part of these kids DNA and it’s hard to believe you can teach them new stuff but just as you would teach your children how to interact on a social level, not to speak to strangers, etc, you should also be teaching kids the same principles in the online space.
How you ask? With a lot of effort is my answer! It’s going to be tough – you’re going to have to learn fast and you’re going to have to learn a lot! You’ll have to move out of your comfort zone – I dare you – install and use MXit on your cell phone, get onto Twitter, interact with your kids on Facebook, go and download a game onto your cell phone, see how it’s all done. See what your kids are exposed to and how you deal with it all.
Connect with your kids here, teach them, get comfortable in their space. Beat them at their own games, and perhaps with more knowledge and information-sharing between families the technology and content that is out there won’t be so scary for all of us.
A well-balanced article and a timely reminder that common sense should always be the guiding principle in parenting!
I also believe that schools should be educating children in digital literacy and safety as well as keeping parents informed as to how to keep their children safe online. Even if a child does not own a cellphone or is not allowed to have a Facebook profile, there is every chance that they will be online at some point either at school, on a friend’s cellphone or on a computer at a friend’s home.
Thank-you for bringing this into the spotlight.
Thanks for your feedback @Arthur – couldn’t agree more with you and thanks for mentioning how schools can also contribute to being part of a healthy solution. I think that this topic is overwhelming for both parents and teachers – by schools educating both children and parents it could certainly help educate kids to ‘play’ in this space responsibly as well as empowering the parents to feel more comfortable. Social media and technology are certainly an integral part of our lives and schools jumping on board in educating the kids in this space makes perfect sense and should certainly be encouraged!
Great post Jude. Nicely thought through and well balanced in my opinion
Thanks for the thought juice
An excellent post on a topic very close to my heart. In fact, it echoes almost exactly what I said in a recent publication I created for the parents of our school (Senior Primary). Well said!
Thanks for the feedback Karen, and brilliant to hear about the important role you’re playing in bringing the classroom and the IT centre together. I’ll be sure to follow your blog for your updates in this space.
Picked up an article in Memeburn this morning, ‘Social Networking and your Health – What’s the big deal?’ – http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/memeburncom/~3/lkWZ2zGEBi4/
The article is about mental health and the worry scientists are having around what Social Media may be doing to our minds.
If it’s true, it become another good reason parents should think carefully about their kids and social media.
Nice link @Barrie. I guess the answer could be everything in moderation? Problem with social media, in my opinion, is that it becomes all consuming too easily!
The pressure is on parents to keep pace with the young people. One cannot keep an eye [police] what one doesn’t have a clue on. It is important for parents to be keen on what their children are doing both in school and at home. Having a watchful eye is not interfeering with the privacy of the child. Leaving everything for teachers to guide the children is detrimental to their welfare and proper upbringing.
Jude, here in the UK, high school starts at age 11. My daughter, Amy is only 11, but leaves home at 7am, catches a bus and another bus (or sometimes a train) to school. She finishes at 3pm and catches a bus (or train) to her ballet lesson, and then my wife or I pick her up at 6pm. We really do need her to have a phone. We just wouldn’t be able to manage our lives if she wasn’t in contact.
BUT, we moved Amy onto an “unlimited SMS” contract in January. I happened to check up on her account in early February and discovered she has sent 536 text messages in five weeks! She had also signed up to a premium content feed (daily horoscopes of all things).
So, my advice to parents of younger teenagers with cellphones is this:
* Until your child is about 16, they don’t have a “right” of privacy over their cellphones. They need to understand this. It is your role, right and responsibility as a parent to manage their digital content and usage. You also need to see this as a coaching role – teaching them appropriate usage.
* Get a contract with a company that allows you to see usage online, so you can track usage even if your child deletes their history.
* You should be comfortable taking the phone away from your younger child when they don’t need it. And your child does not need to take a phone to bed or into their bedroom.
Not foolproof, but we need to be a lot more proactive as parents of younger children as they learn to use communication tools wisely.
Actually, 11 is not young at all to get a phone. Only such very cheap parents would probably think of that. Thanks to that, I will get my phone at my 12th Chrsitmas, which is about 9 days left. Im sick of waiting.