Parents often wonder at what age their child can get their first cell phone. Digital rights professor Andy Phippen gives keys to making this decision, in an article in The Conversation.
I devote my research to young people and their use of the Internet, to study what they do online, what they think about it and how their opinions differ from those of their parents.
I often receive questions from parents who wonder about their children’s digital practices. One of the most common ones is knowing when to buy them a cell phone and how to keep them safe when they have one. Here are some points of reference on these key issues.
Ask yourself: what will the child do with his smartphone?
How old does a child have to be to get their first phone? I am very afraid of disappointing the parents who ask me this question by not giving them a precise age. But, in fact, the main thing is to know what the telephone will be used for – and it is based on this that we will ask ourselves when it will be suitable for this child or another.
According to the 2023 report from the British communications regulatory authority, Ofcom, 20% of three-year-old children living across the Channel now own a mobile phone. But maybe this one is only for taking photos, playing simple games, and making family-supervised video calls.
The most important question is when children can have a personal phone connected to the Internet, which they can use unsupervised to interact with other people online.
When a child is in primary school, they are likely to be under adult supervision most of the time. He is either at school, at home, with friends and trusted adults, or with other family members.
The need to make contact with an adult at a distance may not be that important – but it’s up to you to think about your child’s specific needs.
In general, the transition from elementary to middle school is the time when children begin to move further away from home, or get involved in school or extracurricular activities with friends and where it therefore becomes more important to have a way to contact his home. Many of the young people I interviewed cite this entry into sixth grade as the date of their first mobile.
A much-needed conversation about digital risks
How do you then ensure that the phone is used safely? First of all, if your child has access to the Internet, regardless of their age and the device they use, it is essential to have a conversation with them about these security issues.
Parents have a role to play in raising awareness of digital risks, although we must avoid dramatization and keep in mind that a large part of these experiences are not dangerous.
I have conducted in-depth research into the dangers of the Internet. In this context, I have developed with my colleagues a certain number of resources for parents, developed with the help of more than 1,000 young people.
What these young people say most is that they want to know who to turn to when they need help. They want to know that they will receive support, not be reprimanded or have their phone confiscated. The first step is therefore to reassure your child by telling him that he can come to you if he has problems and that you will help him without judging him.
It is also important to discuss with him what he can or cannot do with his device. This could mean, for example, setting ground rules about what apps they can install on their phone and when they should turn it off at the end of the day.
You should also explore the privacy settings of the apps your child uses, to ensure they can’t be contacted by strangers or access inappropriate content.
Should you monitor your child’s phone?
Parents sometimes ask me if they should be able to monitor their child’s phone, either by directly controlling the device or by using “safetytech”, software installed on another smartphone that allows access to the child’s communications. ‘child.
I think it is important to discuss this with your child as well. If you want him to come to you with online problems, trust needs to be established, so if you’re considering monitoring his phone, talk to him openly about it rather than doing it in person. hiding place.
It seems reasonable to exercise parental supervision over a child’s phone when he is in primary school, in the same way that you would not let him go to a friend’s house without first making sure of the invitation to the child. other parent.
However, as your child gets older, they may not want their parents to see all of their online messages and interactions. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states that a child has the right to respect for his or her private life.
Geolocate your child: what for?
I’ve spoken with families who geolocate each other’s devices openly and transparently, and it’s a decision that’s up to them. But I’ve also spoken to children who find it very scary that one of their friends is being followed by their parents.
The question here is whether parents want to make sure their child is safe or whether they want to know what they are doing online without their knowledge. I had a particularly memorable conversation with someone whose friend was extremely upset that his daughter had changed devices and therefore could no longer follow her. When I asked the girl’s age, I was told she was 22.
It is also worth asking whether this type of technology is not in reality falsely reassuring. They allow parents to know where their child is, but not necessarily to know if they are safe.
As in the case of telephone monitoring, it is worth asking whether this mode of control creates the ideal conditions for the child to consult you in the event of a problem, or whether open conversations and an environment of mutual trust would be better. auspicious.
Andy Phippen, Professor of IT Ethics and Digital Rights, Bournemouth University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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