Secondary school is the time many parents or carers get their child a first mobile phone. In 2015 38% of 10 year olds had a mobile phone of some sort, rising to 66% of 11 year olds**.
A phone is a great way to keep in touch, but there are hazards parents need to be aware of, particularly if children use popular social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
For expert advice and more information visit Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to keeping children safe online.
Risks for children
Cyberbullying: Online bullying is when abusive messages are sent via text message or email, or posted on a social network. Before children were connected 24/7 , bullying typically happened in the playground or on the walk home from school, but with most children having smartphones and using social media cyberbullying is harder to get away from and can take place anywhere – even at home.
Sexting: Sexting is when explicit photographs or messages are sent or received. As well as being illegal for under 18’s, it’s sharing such messages that can lead to bullying and emotional distress, and damaged reputations.
Inappropriate content: If your child uses the internet or a social network, there’s a chance they may be faced with inappropriate language, violence and sexual imagery.
But the good news is it’s possible to filter out inappropriate content using parental controls.
Setting up parental controls on a phone
1: Mobile network parental controls: The majority of mobile networks have parental controls you can activate to restrict what your child sees. These filters don’t apply if the phone is connected to wi-fi.
BT Mobile has three content levels: Strict, which blocks content only suitable for over 12s; Light which blocks adult content and Off. Find out more.
Internet Matters has an interactive guide that shows you how to activate parental controls for the UK’s major mobile phone networks.
2: BT Parental Controls: Available to all BT Broadband customers, there are three predefined filter levels parents and carers can choose from: Strict, Moderate and Light, as well as the ability to set filter times and block specified websites. Parental Controls apply to all devices connected to your Home Hub. Find out more.
BT Parental Controls also work if your child uses your BT ID to connect to a BT Wi-fi hotspot.
Other ISPs provide similar tools.
3: Android and Apple phones: On Android you can set a PIN for purchases from the Google Play Store and set the age level for app downloads. Activate parental controls on an Android phone.
On an iPhone you can restrict browser access, location sharing, app access, in-app purchases and more. Activate parental controls on an Apple iPhone.
Tips on buying a phone for your child
Feature phone or smartphone: Smartphones allow children to access the internet via 3G/4G or wi-fi. According to Ofcom 77% of children in the UK have a mobile phone and 69% of these are smartphones*.
If you opt for a smartphone, be aware of the risks your child may come across and make sure you activate parental controls (see above).
For younger children opt for a feature phone like the Nokia 105 which makes calls and texts, but doesn’t include internet access, making it a good choice for emergency use.
You know your child better than anyone, if they aren’t emotionally mature enough to get a smartphone, opt for a feature phone.
Operating system: The most popular phones run Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android operating system. There are core similarities, such as being able to download apps, music and movies. Both have parental controls that work slightly differently.
Price: Smartphones are attractive to thieves – particularly high-end handsets. Accidents happen, so consider mobile phone insurance.
Pay-as-you-go or pay monthly: Pay-as-you-go is the simplest choice. Pre-pay for credit and you can monitor exactly how much your child is spending.
A Pay Monthly contract can cost money if your child goes over their data allowance, although some mobile networks – such as BT Mobile – let you implement a spend cap. An attractive feature of contract phones is itemised billing, so you can see exactly who your child calls.
Talk to your child
As a parent or carer, communication is key. When your child gets a new phone, sit down with them, explain that it’s not a toy and talk to them about some of the issues they might face.
Online safety organisation Internet Matters has lots of free, practical advice for parents and carers on how to help keep children safe online.