Mobile phones, necessity or accessory?

Getting a mobile phone seems to be on the wishlist of most kids over 8-years- old, so what is the right age to own one and what exactly are you looking for?

perspective

In the old days, children had no mobile phones, yet always got hold of their parents when needed. Adults managed to do their jobs and remember to buy milk on the way home. When the first mobile phones came out, they were a status symbol equivalent to a red Porsche.

today

Today’s children (teens, as well as 8-year-olds) see mobile phones as status symbols, too. It’s not enough to have one, though. It has to be the right make, shape and colour, with the right functionality. Unfortunately, what the children see as the right functionality may not be the best for them.

A mobile phone is a staple item on many wish lists, and the more children who have them, the more others want them too. In the last few years, the question on most parents’ lips changed from “should my child get a phone?” to “when should my child get a phone?”

the pros and cons

The answer is age-driven as much as maturity-driven. How responsible and sensible is the child? Do they understand the payment plan and the limits? Do they even know the word “limit”? Can they do the basic maths to work out how long they can talk per month?

Cyber Bullying was discussed in our February/March issue. Mobile phones are an ideal vehicle for threats, inappropriate text messages and late-night phone calls, so many parents lock up their children’s phones at bedtime for that reason. Furthermore, some parents choose basic models for their kids, because phones with photo/video functionality can be used to capture and spread private or embarrassing moments.

A child who owns a mobile phone can experience peer envy and face-to-face bullying. The phone may “get broken” or “go missing” at school, which is why many principals prohibit mobile phones altogether, and also why it’s wise to have the phone insured.

On the plus side, looking after a phone and its monthly budget can develop a child’s sense of responsibility. It can be a source of freedom and a sign you trust them.

phones for children

Deciding to buy a mobile phone for your child is a major step in parenting today. If you go ahead, your reasons will dictate the phone’s functionality:

  • emergency only - a basic model with GPS, pre-paid with a minimal amount;
  • daily communications with parents (pick-ups, checking in, dinner arrangements) - a basic model, on a payment plan;
  • regular communications with friends - an extended model with a negotiable payment plan;
  • keeping up with the cool crowd - the latest model with all the features.

Overseas, it’s possible to purchase fully functional mobile phones - like Firefly and Kajeet - designed especially for children, with calls restricted to a list of safe numbers. Such phones are not available in New Zealand at the moment, although they may be sourced from Parallel Import Dealerships.

Vodafone offers a Content Guard option that prevents users from viewing inappropriate web material and a blacklist of blocked numbers. A blacklist, however, does not prevent strangers from calling your child.

Some Telecom mobile handsets include a feature that restricts outbound calling to a select list of numbers. This feature is called “fixed calling”, and it can be found on the R-series of handsets. The R101, for example, retails at $99 and is available in black or pink.

Mobile phones for younger children don’t have keyboards and can only call three or four numbers. They can also become one-way listen-in monitors and location trackers that send you a signal if the phone moves outside a predefined region. This works provided the child doesn’t drop the mobile in favour of another toy. A Teddyfone is available in New Zealand and retails at $189.

phones for mums

If you’re a mother thinking of buying a new mobile phone, make sure it’s not fragile:  waterproof, toddler-proof (those little hands can yank the flip cover right off) and capable of sustaining falls. Naturally, you will teach the children not to touch your phone (you might like to password-protect it, too), but accidents do happen, particularly when you’re playing rough-and-tumble.

A mobile phone, even if it’s not a Smart Phone, will come with a number of additional features, such as a calculator, a diary and an alarm clock - useful for keeping track of all the extra-curricular activities and pickup time reminders. The Memo function will let you record your shopping list or the to-do list, and it’s also great for capturing the baby’s first gurgle.

Even if you have a separate camera, consider getting a camera phone. You won’t believe the number of times your baby does something cute and only your phone is at hand.

If you’re going to be out and about with your child, web browsing and GPS might make your life easier. If only the phone could whip up a flat white, too!

getting a good deal

Prepare for the initial cost of buying a handset, as well as for the ongoing cost of making calls. There are two ways to go: a fixed monthly fee for unlimited calls, or pre-pay. Pre-pay can teach children a valuable lesson: the calling budget is $10, and when it’s finished, there’s no more till next month.

Telecom offers loyalty deals if you source your landline, internet and mobile phones from them, but do your sums on the packages offered by Telstraclear, Vodafone and 2degrees, too.

did you know?

  • The latest phones allow users to view 3D pictures and videos without 3D glasses.
  • World Health Organisation currently states that mobile phones pose no hazard. Nevertheless, some governments are against the use of mobile phones, especially
    by children, due to health risk uncertainties.
  • It is against the New Zealand law to use a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
  • Remember the watch-phone in old SciFi movies? It’s now available in shops.

what to buy:

  • The classic look, the flip or the slide model?
  • Phone keyboard, QWERTY or touch screen?
  • Functionality: a built-in camera, web, video calling, mobile TV?

phone etiquette

Some things to discuss with the children before you give them a phone include:

  • The time of day when it’s ok to call people
  • When it’s polite not to answer the phone
  • The etiquette of returning calls
  • Texting is less intrusive than calling (and cheaper, too!)
  • Being careful what you text
  • No cheating in exams
  • No pranks
  • No talking while in the toilet (you’d be surprised!)

By Yvonne Eve Walus [/bylnie]

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