When should kids have their own mobile phones?
Nine-year-old Emma and her sister, Margot, 7, go to school two blocks from their home. They both carry a phone each to school. While Emma uses it sparingly to call her mom to pick her up after sailing lessons, Margot loves to get social calls from her friends.
Pat Kwek gave her only child a mobile phone when she was in Primary-three (P3). “She needs to walk home (alone) after school; the phone’s for emergency use,” she explains. But she confessed that her daughter, now in Primary-five (P5) “has increasingly been using it excessively after school” and has now decided to confiscate it.
Nelawati Moohamad Hock’s 9 year old son has had a mobile phone since he was in P2. The mother of 3 gave her eldest son a phone so that she can communicate with him between her drop-offs and pick-ups to and from school. “[Also], if we are going out, I usually hold his two younger siblings and he ends up walking by himself, following behind me. In case he gets lost in crowded places, he can always call me. So far, he’s been responsible,” she adds.
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While some parents feel that it is prudent to give their kids a mobile phone to stay in touch, others like Madelene Tan is holding off the inevitable for as long as possible.
“I don’t see a need for mobile phone since he takes the school bus and goes to student care after school,” she said of her primary one child. Martha Chan Liebman agrees. Her nine-year-old son does not have a phone and hasn’t asked for one yet. But she concedes that she would give him one “when she deemed it necessary.”
Evelyn Koh has not given any to her kids yet, but is thinking of doing so when they start going for tuition, while Lee Li Kian said she prefers her children “use [the] coin phone in school if they ever need to call.”
While parents are divided over the age their child should own a mobile phone, there is no denying that the mobile phone is increasingly becoming a necessary accessory for the new generation. But where does one draw the line? Are primary school kids too young to own a mobile phone or can they be trusted with the responsibility that comes with it?
Parents like Jack Loo, doesn’t think it’s an issue. He gave his daughter her personal phone when she started primary one, but clearly stated his rules to her. She cannot bring the phone to school and is allowed to carry the phone only on school excursions or outings with her friends or cousins, without her parents present.
Loo is the Director of Alpha Telecom Pte Ltd, a SingTel exclusive retail partner at Funan Centre and has been in the telecommunication industry for over 20 years. He has noticed a tremendous change in the landscape of mobile phone sales in the last two years.
“Parents are buying Smart phones for their kids as incentive for good grades or behaviour,” he said. “Even the Blackberry, formerly known as an Executive’s phone, is now popular among teenagers because of its social media properties. They can Tweet, Facebook and MSN each other easier, faster, and with the data plan, for FREE.”
But SMART phones can be a distraction for a young child. Loo advises parents to opt for a simple, basic phone for their younger kids to eliminate any gaming temptation or penchant to abuse their calling privileges.
He also recommends getting a pre-paid SIM card for their child’s phone to avoid what he calls a “bill-shock”. While some parents worry about the lack of funds in the pre-paid card, Loo reassures that the pre-paid card will prompt the user when the funds are low and need replenishing.
The decision to give a personal phone to a primary school student is very much dependent on the family’s needs (as expressed by parents above). However, aside from the usual warning against obvious risks like giving out phone numbers to or taking calls from strangers, there are other potential hazards.
Earlier this year (May), the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a health warning regarding the potential dangers of cell phone radiation. While the findings remain controversial, they are sufficient to cause some countries like Finland and France to be concerned enough to issue public warnings.
Experts like Devra Davis, epidemiologist, author (Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation) and founder of the Environmental Health Trust, are concerned that our children are exposed to cell phone radiation at an earlier age and over a longer period of time, and because their nervous systems are not fully developed, they are more susceptible to the effects of radiation.
Still, with inconclusive findings and insufficient research done, we are still in the dark whether this is a real threat or just another scientific spoof.
Another concern that is gaining grounds among parents is the usage of text slang in messaging. While there is some worry that frequent use of such slang may affect their children’s ability to read or write properly, parents seem to be more anxious about text abbreviations becoming a communication barrier between them and their children.
Text slang used by kids comes in the form of acronyms, abbreviated words, numbers, letters and symbols for sounds. We are familiar with common ones like LOL (Laughing out loud), OMG (oh my god), 121(one to one), and gf / bf / bff (girlfriend / boyfriend / best friend), but here are some of the sporadic ones that may pop up in your child’s phone:
- I h8 txt msgs – I hate text messages
- Gr8 / W8 – great / wait
- W/E – whatever
- RUOK – are you ok?
- Cmb – call me back
- CUL – see you later
- TTLY – Totally
- xlnt – excellent
- hldmecls – hold me close
- 2bctnd – to be continued
- Iowan2bwu – I only want to be with you
- Roflmao – rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off
- Cu2nite – See you tonight
- WYSIWYG – what you see is what you get
- IWYWH – I wish you were here
- JC – just chilling
- KWIM – know what I mean
- PITA – pain in the ass
- IDC / IDK – I don’t care / I don’t know
- GTG /G2G – Got to go / Get together
While the mobile phone has brought about unprecedented ease and convenience in terms of communication, the potential hazards are very real. There can therefore be no clear cut rules on when your kid should have that first phone. All we can probably do is try and limit the potential dangers and misuse as best we can.