In this age of ubiquitous and ever-smarter mobile phones, it is hardly surprising that children are clamouring for their own handset at an increasingly early age. After all, young people are traditionally more adept with technology, and seem to take to gadgets with more intuitive ease than preceding generations.
Having the latest electronic toy is also a status symbol amongst peers, not to mention the first sign of a youngster’s much-longed for independence and maturity. Many of us from a slightly earlier generation remember the thrill of getting our own landline installed in our bedroom, with all the accompanying prospects of a private social life (despite our parents’ ability to listen in from another handset). It’s much the same today – a mobile phone offers the ability to socialise and interact with peers constantly, without requiring parental permission.
To some extent, this has always been an important coming-of-age ritual for children – those first steps away from the nest, toward an independent social life free of constant parental supervision. However, what concerns many people nowadays is the early age at which children are getting their first mobiles. The average age for first mobiles in the UK is eight, and many argue that children this young are simply not mature or aware enough to deal with the responsibilities a mobile phone entails.
There are pros and cons to the question, of course. For instance, many parents feel that their kids are safer with mobile phones. It’s easier to check in with kids to find out where they are at all times, and kids themselves can quickly get in touch with their parents in case of emergency. However, others note that carrying a fancy phone might make children more vulnerable to mugging, and that texting or talking while walking in areas with lots of traffic might distract children and cause them to be involved in accidents. The answer to these qualms, of course, may be to supply kids with very inexpensive, basic-model phones that aren’t worth stealing, and to properly educate youngsters about traffic dangers.
Another argument in favour of providing kids with mobiles is that nowadays a child without their own phone is at a social disadvantage, unable to interact as effectively with their peers and more likely to be left out of social circles. However, it can equally be said that the rise of texting and social media networks mean that people of all ages are increasingly removed from the real world and genuine human interaction. The risk is that a child raised in such a society will never learn how to interact properly with others in a face-to-face environment.
Meanwhile, the growing popularity of smartphones and mobile internet poses similar problems for parents as did the emergence of the internet – chiefly, how to monitor what their children are viewing online, and with whom they’re interacting. Much as the internet (and smartphones) offer brilliant educational opportunities, there are downsides to giving children unlimited access to information. Many schools, for instance, have banned the use of mobiles within their walls not only because they can distract pupils, but also due to their potential to be used for cheating on tests or bullying fellow students.
The realities of modern life mean that kids (and increasingly adults) who aren’t comfortable using the full technological gamut used in the world today will be at a disadvantage in terms of education, career and social life. However, given the speed and relative ease with which children pick up these skills, perhaps it is not necessary that they grow up using these gadgets almost from birth. Or, if parents feel the benefits of having a mobile phone outweigh the dangers in their child’s situation, the best approach may simply be to ensure that children are taught from a young age about not only the immense possibilities of the technology, but also about how to protect themselves from the many pitfalls.
Do you think children should be allowed to have mobile phones? Vote in our poll below!