There was an article in the Daily Mail the other day by Sarah Vine (yes, the wife of Education Secretary Michael Gove) called Why I have taken my daughter’s phone away.
It got me wondering: what is the right age to give a child a mobile phone? And when you do cave to the pester power and hand over your child's first mobile phone, should it be an all-singing-and-dancing top of the range Smartphone model, or your old brick-like cast off, for emergency use only?
In transpires that Ms Vine's daughter is only 11 years old, but Ms Vine recently bought her a mobile phone. Not just any old mobile phone either - an iPhone, no less. Ms Vine concedes that it was a “really stupid” and thoughtless act which she deeply regretted.
Justifying her initial decision to furnish her 11 year old with a mobile phone, Ms Vine wrote that she was conscious that her daughter would soon be going to secondary school “where not owning a smartphone is the equivalent of turning up in a pony and trap”.
In the end Ms Vine confiscated her daughter’s phone, mainly due to concerns that she wasn’t ready for one because “home was no longer a sanctuary from the pressures of school life”. She explains that playground fall outs and squabbles began to follow her daughter home, “channeled via one small device”.
Ms Vine argues, too, that giving a child a phone for safety reasons is an illusion, and writes that they stunt the emotional growth of kids and make parents lazy.
I’m not sure about all that, but had I been in Ms Vine’s shoes I think I would have been hot-footing it to my child’s school to have a stern word or two with the Principal about the “playground rivalries” which were bothering my child. If you ask me, the mobile phone isn’t the problem there; it’s seemingly unchecked unacceptable behaviour at break time.
I also think it's important to teach kids that technology needs to be tamed, or it can very quickly become your master. Teaching our kids that phones need to be turned off at certain times of the evening is an essential skill, and one which I’d like my children to get to grips with before they reach secondary school, when the lure of a blue screen at bedtime is said to keep many a teenager up half the night.
My eldest child is already desperate for a mobile phone, mainly because he’s reached an age where phones are status symbols among his peers, and several of his mates already boast about their mobile phone ownership like kids back in my day used to boast about getting new Pixie boots or collecting limited editions Pogs. (Remember those? We see your Loom Bands, kiddos, and we raise them Pogs…)
What’s more, the Department of Health has just launched a two-year study - the world’s biggest, in fact - into the effects of mobile phones on children’s brains. As the Guardian reports, this comes nine years after another government study concluded that children should only use mobile phones when absolutely necessary, and that children under eight should not use them at all.
All I’ll say is that there’s no smoke without fire; I can’t see why anyone would be giving the green light to a study into whether using mobile phones have a deleterious effect on children unless there was a chance they do. That's enough to put me off putting a phone in my children's pockets at least until the results of this study are revealed.
And call me old-fashioned but until my kids start travelling significant distances without parental supervision, I see no reason why they even need a mobile phone. Aside from the unnecessary additional strain on the household purse strings, putting a phone in to little hands puts them in harm’s way, unless you’re very savvy about the risks; everything from cyber bullying and in-app purchases to online grooming (click here for information from Vodafone about what you need to know about that).
Alarmist? Perhaps, but as my mother used to say; better safe than sorry.
And if that makes me an uncool or unpopular parent, well, I can live with that.