Top tips to help parents keep children safe when giving them their first phone
Some of the top tips to help parents keep their child safe with their first mobile phone include setting it up as a “child's phone”, activating parental control – and restricting WiFi.
Mobile phone provider Vodafone UK has partnered with NSPCC to launch a new platform of resources, to help support parents who are thinking about buying their child's first mobile phone.
Other top tips for mums and dads include turning on safety settings on apps their children use, reporting harmful content online – and simply talking to their children about online safety risks.
It comes as Vodafone commissioned a poll of 1,000 parents and carers, with kids aged 8-17, which found that over half (56%) worry about their little ones having a mobile phone.
And 36% say that choosing when to give their youngsters their first device is one of the hardest decisions they have to make as parents – equally as difficult as selecting which school they should go to.
Meanwhile, 56% struggle to decide when their child is old enough to go to the park or the shops by themselves – and 29% find it difficult to know who their offspring should be playing with.
However, 74% of parents and carers feel it is important for a child to have a phone by the time they start secondary school – with 42% believing this will help keep them safe when travelling to and from school.
And 35% reckon it is important for their child to be able to keep in touch with friends outside of school.
When it comes to the top concerns they have about giving their child a mobile phone, 53% worry about them seeing inappropriate content or being bullied online, while 28% of parents admit they do not feel equipped to keep their children safe online.
The NSPCC reports that in 2022/23, 10% of calls to its Helpline that focused on mobile phones or online platforms took place in August – highlighting a spike in online safety concerns ahead of the new school term.
But while parents are worried about a first phone, children are excited – asking for a phone multiple times a week from the age of nine, on average.
When the time arrived, parents said children were more excited about getting their first phone than their first pet or first bicycle.
However, 21% of parents find it hard to know which mobile phone to pick for their children – and nearly one in 10 (9%) spend five months or more discussing when to buy their child their first phone, according to the OnePoll.com data.
Interestingly, 48% said they would consider the sustainable option and choose a refurbished phone to give to their child.
As part of its partnership with the NSPCC, Vodafone is launching a growing online platform of resources to help keep children safe online, and provide top tips for buying a child their first phone.
Nicki Lyons, chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer at the telecommunications company, said: “We know a child’s first phone is a big moment for families – exciting for children, but bringing with it new concerns for parents and carers.
“Our research highlights that many mums, dads, and carers don’t feel confident they know all they need to keep their children safe online, or where to start with choosing their first phone.
“That’s why, for well over a decade, we’ve been committed to helping them navigate being online with their children.
“And now, working with the NSPCC, we’re supporting parents with more practical resources and tips, to give them the tools and confidence they need when their children step into the online world with their first phone.”
The survey also revealed most parents don’t feel confident setting up safety features on key applications that children use – such as BeReal (93%), Snapchat (85%), and TikTok (81%).
Kate Edwards, associate head for child safety online, said: “At the NSPCC, we are doing everything within our power to ensure that children are safe when they enter the online world, including campaigning for a more robust online safety bill.
“We know a child’s first steps, first words, and first day at school are all exciting moments for families – but getting a first phone is one which can be tempered by fear.
“This is why our partnership with Vodafone is so important. Together, we can support parents to understand how to keep children safe.”
TOP 10 SAFETY TIPS WHEN GETTING A CHILD THEIR FIRST MOBILE PHONE:
- Set it up as a “child’s phone” – Speak to your provider to avoid access to certain content, or to avoid spending too much.
- Activate parental controls on the mobile – Contact your provider to limit the 4G/5G networks your child’s phone can access.
- Turn on apps safety settings – Put content filters, chat filters, privacy settings, and in-app purchase settings on all applications.
- Restrict WiFi – Contact your internet service provider to set up WiFi controls for devices in your home.
- Talk to your child – You know when your child is old enough to talk about certain topics without becoming upset or frightened. When talking about risks, be honest, but try not to catastrophise.
- Check location settings – Review location settings on favourite apps or games, and remind them they shouldn’t share their location online.
- Know about app safety settings – For example, TikTok has a Family Pairing feature that links a parent’s account with their child’s, while Snapchat offers built-in parental control features, and Instagram has its Parental Guide for Teens with helpful tips.
- Don't forget about online gaming safety – Check the age rating to make sure it is appropriate, and adjust the settings to make sure chat and voice features are turned off. You can set limits on screentime, too.
- Report harmful online content – If you are concerned about something your child has seen online, you can visit the NSPCC page about reporting online safety concerns, or call the NSPCC helpline.
- Know where to go for help and advice – You can learn more about safety settings on apps, games, and devices via Vodafone's Digital Parenting Pro.
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