(Herald, The (Plymouth, England) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The real cost of those appy days ; On average, children get their first mobile phone at 10. Lisa Salmon asks the experts how parents can safeguard against big bills
IT'S a modern parenting dilemma - when do you give your child their first mobile phone? Sooner rather than later, it would seem, as new research suggests more than half of children aged 10 or under (52%) have a mobile phone, and the majority (90%) of kids aged eight to 14 own one.
The study by comparison site broadbandchoices.co.uk found that 10 was the average age that children get their first phone.
And whatever the age of the mobile-owning child, almost half expect to spend more than twice as long on their phone over the summer school holidays, using it for an extra two or more hours per day to call and text, play games, use social media and messaging apps.
But while some parents may worry about the time children spend on their phones, the fact is that mobiles can serve a useful purpose for parents. A separate study by Netmums and the online mobile phone retailer e2save found that parents' main motivation for buying phones for their children was emergencies and safety, with around half of the phones bought for children aged between nine and 14 years purchased for this reason.
Communication and keeping tabs on their child's whereabouts were also important factors, accounting for 39% of motivations to buy a phone for nine to 11-year-olds, and 29% for those aged between 12 and 14. "Most of the time parents are giving mobile phones to children because of safety and keeping in touch," agrees Jeremy Todd, chief executive of the parenting charity Family Lives.
"Our main concern is if the phone is just being used as a pacifier, to keep children quiet."
While most parents (45%) think their child only spends up to one hour per day on their mobile, almost a quarter of kids admitted to spending up to four or more hours per day using it.
Indeed, 15% of children said they'd rather give up food and sleep in favour of playing on their mobile, while nearly a quarter (23%) were willing to give up seeing their friends face-to-face to use their phone more. Children predominantly use their mobiles for making calls, texting, playing games and using social apps, the survey found. Todd says: "Kids aren't necessarily gaming on their mobiles, they're staying in touch with friends, so it doesn't necessarily have to be perceived as a bad thing.
"But if they're gaming all day on their phone, they need to be encouraged to try other things too, including playing outside." However, the survey found there's a more worrying aspect of children's mobile phone use - 5% admit they use their mobile phone to shop online and make in-app purchases - often without a parent's knowledge. That's in addition to the Pounds 30-plus a month that one in 10 children are spending on their mobiles, with one in seven overspending by Pounds 20 or more in some months.
Despite this, more than half of the children surveyed had some responsibility for their own phone bill (usually as an allowance). Indeed, some parents (16%) even give their children phones as a way of teaching financial responsibility.
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert at broadbandchoices.co.uk, says: "It's encouraging to see that children and teenagers are very technically and digitally aware.
"Costs, however, can easily add up quickly on a mobile phone, particularly with data usage, which we found to be the biggest single contributor to bill shocks.
"With kids using their mobiles more during the summer holidays, there are easy ways for parents, and kids who are in charge of their phone bills, to prevent these surprises." He suggests: Giving a child a second-hand phone. Avoid expensive handsets as they may make children a target for thieves as well as being expensive to replace.
If a handset has internet access, ensure children are aware of the security, personal safety and bill shock dangers.
If buying a smartphone, choose one with built-in parental control software, or use parental control apps instead.
To avoid going over the data allowance, most phones also have data limits which can be found in the settings menu.
When taking phones abroad on holiday, data roaming costs can be high, so either leave your child's phone at home, or make sure data roaming is turned off and consider limiting the use of calls and texts.
Giving a child a prepay (PAYG) phone allows parents to limit what their child spends every month, and if the phone is stolen, thieves can't run up any bills past the existing credit balance.
Contract phone deals come with smart handsets included and more generous text, minute and data allowances, but can cost more per month and can often lead to children unintentionally racking up excess bills. Capped contracts can come with a handset included and offer the power to cap a child's monthly spend as if they were on PAYG. Since capped deals are rare, ensure the networks who offer them have network coverage in your area.
If your child has a smartphone, make sure they understand they shouldn't buy any apps or make in-app purchases without your permission.
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