Mobile phones are a fashion item as well as a communications tool these days, and most children will want phones for one or both reasons. So, as a parent, how can you ensure that your child's mobile phone use is safe? There are four main concerns: privacy-related (such as harassment, cyber-bullying, etc.), phone loss (from theft or carelessness), inappropriate content (usually online, but also inappropriate picture messaging, etc.), and direct health risks from using the phone.
To protect your child's privacy, do talk to them honestly and openly about the risks, without sensationalising things. Most of us use our phones without harm, as do most children, so try not to scare them! Ask them to be particularly wary of any opt-in services, particularly ones that might allow a third party service to know your child's location, such as location-based apps that use GPS to determine nearby shops or services. The risk is probably minimal, so long as your child doesn't reveal their age to the service or to other users of the service. Get them to be wary of who they give their number out to, and if they are bullied or harassed by text or call, ask them not to respond. Most schools have anti-bullying policies that also cover cyber-bullying, and such activity can be dealt with under anti-harassment law, too. Mobile phone providers are also alert to such problems, and are generally sympathetic if asked to block a particular user.
Mobile phones have been an attractive target to thieves since they were first launched, and this is especially true of modern smartphones, which may be worth hundreds of pounds. Ensure your child realises that walking down the street waving an iPhone is not much different to walking down the street waving two hundred pounds in a wad of twenties. Subtlety is the order of the day, here, particularly in the dodgy part of town – if you can't avoid walking through it completely, at least be alert to your surroundings rather than texting, and don't show off your wealth. Make sure your child has some kind of protection for the phone that they're comfortable with, too – a case, or a pouch, or a phone sock, just to give it a bit of a cushion from the inevitable knocks and scrapes of a child's active life.
Most of the mobile phone providers now offer some kind of child-safety content protection for smartphones, so that it's almost impossible for children to download or view inappropriate content over the net, so long as you have that content protection in place. Do check with your child's phone company, and make sure it is activated on their phone. Again, have that common-sense chat with your child, too. Point out the potential risks involved in sending or receiving lewd picture messages, once they're of an age when that might become an issue. They might think that sexy pic is only going to their girlfriend or boyfriend, but they have no control over what's done with it afterwards, and particularly if they're underage, they may fall foul of the law, too.
At present, there's no evidence of direct health risks from using a mobile phone, such as brain tumours. However, while we are unsure of the precise risks, it's better to be safe than sorry. Current UK government advice is to keep calls short where possible, particularly if children are using the mobile phone, and to use texts over calls for preference. The concern is that if there are any health risks from the electromagnetic radiation given off by phones, children's brains are likely to be more at risk than adults'.
With a smartphone, or any phone that doubles as a gaming device, there's a slight risk, as with consoles and PC gaming, of repetitive strain injury. This shouldn't be a problem, so long as your child follows two simple guidelines – take regular breaks from gaming, at least for a few minutes every hour, and stop at once if there's any pain caused by stylus use or screen tapping. As long as you discuss the risks involved with using a phone there is no reason that your child should not have their own mobile phone contract .