When my eldest was born 9 and a half years ago, we like the millions of parents around the world, (apart from being completely overwhelmed) had this primal urge to protect.

I remember vividly, her being 3 weeks old and my husband walking her in the pram up the road – I sobbed for the entire time that they were away! I was absolutely terrified of anything happening to her. She had never been more than a couple of metres away from me and now she was being walked, in the opposite direction, away from me! I know this sounds deranged, (I certainly think that now) but I am sure that many first time mums would definitely sympathise with the bonkers hormones of being 3 weeks postpartum.

The truth is however, no matter how old she, or my youngest gets, there is still this primal need to protect them. I’m worried about the future and how to protect my littlies from the very real threats out there. Maybe because I’m a secondary school teacher, I see my fair share of dangers probably more than the norm.

We live in a society that is frightening in so many ways; dangers are far subtler than most people would believe. When we were young, dangers were simpler … Say “no to strangers”, ”take care when crossing road, riding bikes and climbing frames” etc etc

Today our society’s dangers are very real and every one of our children can be susceptible to them unless we are careful. I often see parents buy their children a mobile phone when they start big school in the belief that they are protecting them from being lost, stranded, and frightened. For many, it’s the first time that their child will walk home alone and so having a phone is a logical and practical solution to protect them; their littlie can always ring home for help, or at worse dial 999. For the vast majority of our children this is the perfect solution and I’m sure this will be the time when we as parents finally cave to the constant pleads “Mum, can i have a mobile phone?”.

Fifteen years ago when mobile phones were literally a phone with the odd game – (how long did I actually spend playing snake on the old Nokias?) all parents would have been right about protection. But mobile phones have evolved beyond anything I could have imagined! Phones are used for so much more than making calls and to be honest I believe this hand held mini computer is one of the biggest problems facing our youth of today.

So what’s the big deal?

Quite simply it is the fact that kids now have immediate access to all sorts of material that children should just not have access too. The Internet is full of great stuff, but it is also full of ugly and harmful material that is dangerous. Of course many of these issues are as a result of the advancements in technology in terms of ICT, so some of these problems would be here regardless of phones; but phones never leave these kids sides, a PC would!

Schools have to pick up all kinds of fallouts between friendship groups over the various types of social media (sometimes even parents having gotten involved). This certainly doesn’t make for a conducive learning environment!

The impact of cyber bullying is far bigger than most people are aware. We see in the news far too frequently, parent’s anguish over the consequences of cyber bulling, there are more learners with issues of eating disorders, self harming and even suicide all down to poor image and self worth largely as a result of social media.

“Hang on, this isn’t anything new – haven’t issues of bullying always been there?”

Yes they have, but these little hand held devices disguised as phones have exacerbated the extent and the numbers of children who are directly affected and exposed. This has massively increased in the last 5 years. Again, whilst victims and bullies will always exist, mobile phones give them the platform to be constantly checking what people think of them via social media etc. Some recent statistics suggest that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. Some other studies have even suggested that over half of the teenagers they interviewed had experienced some from of abuse through social media. Now admittedly some of this data includes computers and online gaming, but the principal is the same, if they have constant access, (which they do with mobile phones) then they are increasingly that risk!

What we have to do, is manage that risk!

“My child would never do something like that!”

Phones today have cameras! Children have the need to be liked and accepted by their peers and some will take inappropriate images! Their intention will be of course, for the images to remain private between themselves and the recipient. Parents unfortunately can often be unaware or in complete denial about their children taking inappropriate pictures of themselves; the times we hear the above phrase is alarming. Police have been inundated with the number of incidents across the country, where these images suddenly go viral! Unfortunately some children are unpleasant and do unpleasant things, they have always been around and they will unfortunately always be around! The problem now, is that bullying and blackmail is on a greater scale because bullies often have photographic and video evidence that is then used to force children into precarious and incredibly dangerous situations. I know this is scary stuff and I apologise for being frank, however, if this helps just one child avoid any type of exploitation than it will have been worth it.

Children by definition are young and will make mistakes, of course they will! Our job as parents and educators is to teach them right from wrong, how to be sensible, mature and caring human beings and teach them to learn from those mistakes.  The problem with mobile phones today is that children are not free to make mistakes. Uploading films, images on social media, taking a picture and sending it to their boyfriend/girlfriend, might be something that they later regret, but their mistakes are hugely public and can not be easily removed or even easily forgotten.

So am I saying don’t let your children have mobile phones?

Both my husband and myself have thought this at one time or another. That overwhelming need to protect our daughters from this scary world sees that primal response like the first day we held them. We want them safe from bullies, confident and for them to be able to make mistakes and learn from them without the mistakes being ever etched on the world wide web.

Realistically though, no of course not! It would exclude our children from interacting with their friends and peers and they would be targets for bullying in the old fashioned way.

Along with almost every 9 year old my eldest is already asking for a mobile phone. She doesn’t want it to make calls (who would she phone?) She wants it because of what these devices are, computers! She knows she can play games, listen to music and download all sorts of cool apps! She sees older kids walking down the street staring at them, she sees us always on them! (shame on us too – hey I’m definitely not perfect). She knows it is part of growing up and being part of society and she, like all her age group, desperately want to fit in.

So here is my quandary – I know and understand the many varied problems of mobile phones, but I also want my daughters to feel socially accepted, to be happy and rounded human beings. At the moment I can stem the tide of what is to come (she doesn’t go anywhere without us or another adult) so she doesn’t need a phone – yet!!!! But I know the time will come.

So how do we manage a situation that we know is potentially putting them at risk?

The same way we would handle our children crossing the road for the first time. It is about educating! You wouldn’t let you child just run across the road, and we can’t say “you will never cross the road by yourself” We have to teach them safety first and then watch and give many opportunities to support them in making their first attempt! One day they will have to cross the road on their own and we have to hope that the messages of safety stay with them, and they respond appropriately.

There are certain companies that have wised up to parent’s concerns about phones and offer all sorts of safety features – which is a useful start. This is a link to a website that I found, I have never used these phones so can’t comment on their effectiveness – but the point is with a little research it is possible to find a phone that will give you some security for your child. Digital trends  However, ultimately we still have to educate our kids to be and act in the real world and teach them to use a phone responsibly.

So my request and advice is this, when you choose to allow your child a phone – get educated.

  • Investigate, find out, and understand all you can about the ever-changing technological world that we live in and keep up to date. There are new social media sites coming online all the time, stay on top of the changes.
  • Attend your child’s school Internet safety meetings – they will often keep you abreast of new changes.
  • Be a member on your child’s social media sites, especially as they get older – although try and refrain from commenting all the time (not cool!)
  • Ensure that you can always have access to all aspects of their phone at all times, nothing should be blocked from you – that’s the deal!
  • Teach your child that if it isn’t something that you as their parent would want to see or read – then they should never write it, or take pictures of it. Be open, honest and fair.
  • Talk to your children regularly about difficult subjects, have nothing as taboo. It’s important for our children to be safe, happy and secure so that they come to us, to talk through their issues and not feel the need share it with the whole wide world.
  • Make sure you know and your children know who is their Internet safety officer at school and where to find them should they need to.
  • Teach your child not to answer cyber bulling messages, block them on social media but keep all evidence. This can then be reported to the police, there are laws there to protect!
  • Keep your senses heightened – notice any change in their behaviour (Do be mindful that teenagers will and do often behave erratically but notice any serious signs of being withdrawn and keep a note of things completely out of the norm). You knew your child as a baby and what their needs were – learn to know what they are and what is normal as a teenager.
  • If ever in any doubt – seek advice! Here are just a couple of useful sites that I’ve found that might be useful.

So if you’re asking the question “should my child get a mobile phone?” it is already a great start, keep asking, keep investigating, be knowledgeable about all social media and digital platforms.

Knowledge is not only power – it’s protection.

As for me and mine, the battle of the phone is looming! I’ve appeased my 9 year old with my old phone for now; it has music, no actual phone or Internet signal. For the time being she is content… although my 5 year old is now complaining that it’s not fair that her sister has a phone and she doesn’t   agghhhh!!!! Such is life :o)

Come back soon!

 

Susie x