With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the East Coast, we are all reminded of the power of mobile technology. I am grateful indeed that my mom in DC and my brother in New York can update me on their situations from their mobile phones — at least until
their batteries run out — even as they are without electricity. Yes, mobile technology keeps families connected in good times and bad and we all have become dependent on it.
But with this increasing reliance on our mobile phones comes genuine concerns, from cyber-bullying to texting while driving to more mundane things like the cost of mobile phone service. Like many parents, I am contemplating when to buy a mobile phone for my kids. With Zuzu entering middle school next year, and the increasing independence that comes with that, I suspect that we are not far from that time. Yes, I didn’t get my first mobile phone until after I graduated from law school, but clearly today’s world is very different from the one in which I grew up. Kids today have mobile phones. And parents need to be informed about how to use this technology in a safe and helpful way.
AT&T has spent the past year talking to kids and parents about mobile safety in an effort to educate families and to provide resources to help parents navigate these unfamiliar waters. I recently attended a webinar on mobile safety for kids ages 8-11 years hosted by AT&T and The Motherhood. Here are some of the highlights from that discussion.
12 is the average age that kids are getting their first mobile phone.
AT&T surveyed 1000 parents and 500 kids about their family’s use of mobile phones. Some of the findings were surprising. While 12 is the average age that kids receive their first phone, nearly one-third of kids ages 8-11 have their own phone. So if we were to buy Zuzu a phone next year when she is t10, she would be young compared to the national average, but certainly not alone. From the discussion among the other attendees at the webinar, it appears that there is no magic right age for kids to have their first mobile phone. It really depends on your family and your community. In my town, many kids walk or ride their bikes to school and to after-school activities. In those situations, it may make sense to buy even 10 or 11 year old kids a phone.
31% of kids ages 8-11 have a mobile phone.
AT&T found that among kids in this age range — 8 to 11 years — there is definitely a coolness factor to having their own phone, but unlike with older kids, the phone does not become the center of their lives. In other words, it’s cool to have a phone and the phone serves a function, but it is not the center of these kids’ lives. The key concerns for parents of kids in this age group? The responsibility of having an expensive item like a phone, accidentally using features, downloading inappropriate content and privacy.
What can parents of kids in this age range do to address these concerns? In terms of trusting a tween with an expensive item like a mobile phone, it is important to assess if your child is ready. Has your child handled other responsibilities, such as taking care of a pet, or expensive sports or music equipment? This is something that I worry about with Zuzu because she is a bit of a dreamer. To be frank, that kid’s head is in the clouds. She loses multiple pairs
of goggles during one swim season and they only cost $15! I really don’t know if she can keep track of a phone. If I decide to take the risk anyway, I can always protect my purchase with mobile insurance. AT&T offers a Mobile Protection Pack with enhanced technical support, insurance and a Mobile Locate app in case of loss or theft. If Zuzu’s track record with goggles is any indication, I can see that being a worthwhile investment.
90% of kids say it is okay for parents to set limits on their mobile phone usage.
Safety may be a harder issue to address. Luckily, kids in this age range may be amenable to some limits. In fact, most kids recognize the need for limits when it comes to mobile phone use — 90% of the kids surveyed by AT&T said it was okay for their parents to set rules on their phone usage. Of course, setting limits is only part of the battle. It is incumbent about parents to talk to their kids about mobile safety, just as they would about other safety issues, like strangers and alcohol and drug use. Two out of 5 kids in AT&T’s survey reported that their parents had not talked to them about mobile safety. And 70% of the kids in the survey reported answering a call from a number that they did not recognize. Those are sobering statistics.
69% of kids surveyed said they have answered a call on their mobile phone from an unknown number. 2 out of 5 said that their parents had not talked to them about mobile safety.
While nothing is a substitute for an ongoing conversation about safety, AT&T does offer free safety features for mobile phones, including purchase blockers to block kids from downloading games and apps and content filters to keep inappropriate content from younger viewers. AT&T also offers Smart Limits for Wireless which can block up to 30 numbers, limit purchases and texting and set time restrictions to restrict calls and texts during certain times of day, like at night or during class hours. The monthly charge for that service is only $4.99 and I suspect that I would find that to be worth the money.
Parents buying their tweens their first phone also have a perfect opportunity to talk to their kids about mobile phone etiquette, such as when it is and is not appropriate to answer a call or text and what is an appropriate way to the functions on their phone — never to embarrass or harass. Schools all have policies about when students may use their phones and where those phones should be during class time. Parents need to learn what those policies are and make sure their kids are complying. Of course, I am not the best about setting limits on phone usage for myself! My husband and I have been known to use our phones at less-than-ideal times, like at the dinner table. I can see us needing to create a family policy on where it is and is not okay to use our phones.
Zuzu is already asking about whether she can get a phone next year and my husband and I agree that it might be time. Honestly, there have been times when we wished she had a phone now, such as when we are running late to pick her up from swim practice or when she is late walking home from school. I was not aware of all the issues inherent in the decision to provide kids with their own mobile phones before this webinar, nor was I aware of all the safety features available for parents. I am definitely glad that I was able to attend and I will be much better informed when we do decide to get Zuzu that phone that she is longing for. Whether we can keep her from losing it is still an open question!
Full disclosure time: this is a sponsored post for AT&T’s Mobile Safety School and The Motherhood. I am being compensated for my work in helping to spread the word about AT&T’s mobile safety initiatives. As always, the opinions expressed herein are entirely my own.If you want to continue this discussion, AT&T is hosting a Twitter party on Friday November 9 at 2 pm ET on mobile safety. Ask questions, exchange tips and advice and win fabulous prizes, including 2 Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 devices and Target gift cards. RSVP for the party here.