Mobile phones are a great way for children to stay in touch with their parents, family and friends. Mobile phones allow users to make calls, take photos, play games, send texts (SMS) and images (MMS), and access the internet.
While mobile phones provide immediate contact and can be fun to use, the fact that they can be available 24 hours a day and you may not always be available to supervise means there are potential risks for children and young people. Risks include:
There are many different mobile phone services available for use with differing fees and charges. In some cases, such as pre-paid services, users don’t need to sign an ongoing service contract. For others, a contract is required that may run for years. The cost of calls, texts and downloads varies between every mobile service. Before choosing a handset and service it’s worth checking the terms and conditions, such as whether a handset is included, what happens if your child loses the handset, the contract length and the charges for different types of services including SMSs, phone calls and internet access.
Contracts run for a set period during which the mobile phone company provides the customer with connection to a network, sometimes the use of a handset and a certain number of calls and SMSs (text messages) and data usage per month. If the number of calls, texts or the download limit is exceeded at the end of each month, excess charges can be quite high.
Pre-paid mobile phone services offer more control over the amount spent. Rather than committing to an ongoing contract, credit is purchased from a service provider for use with a handset. A list of charges applies for calls, SMSs and data usage. Once the credit runs out it needs to be topped up with more money before services, other than Triple Nine (999), can be accessed.
Some mobile phone companies also offer month-by-month plans without a fixed term contract for customers with their own handset providing greater flexibility.
When making a phone available to your child, consider whether you need to limit their mobile phone use or whether they are responsible enough to understand how to manage their own phone. Remember this may be the first major financial responsibility for many children and they may need guidance or rules to help them understand and manage costs.
Mobile premium services, often referred to as premium SMS (text message) or MMS (multimedia message), are called premium because customers are charged a premium for using the service. This means that they cost more than a standard SMS or MMS. The cost varies and often appears in small print at the bottom of the advertisement for the service. These services are very popular with children as they offer access to ringtones, mobile phone wallpaper, games, music tracks and videos.
Premium services are generally accessed from mobile phones through an SMS or by subscribing online.
When the premium service is accessed there may be a one off cost for a single service, or there may be an ongoing subscription involved, with more messages received by the child in subsequent days or weeks at a cost. Some children unintentionally access a subscription service and don’t understand the costs involved until their credit has run out or a bill arrives.
To help manage your child’s use of premium services, encourage them to look at the terms, conditions and costs before signing up, or require them to show you the details first. Ongoing or subscription premium services are required to send a text to the mobile phone after the initial request for the service to confirm that a subscription service has been requested. Encourage your child to keep this message or record the details so they have an easy way to unsubscribe when they choose.
When accessing services that require children to download the content from the internet, such as games or video, your mobile phone company may also charge fees for data downloaded on top of the premium SMS charge. Check the phone contract or terms and conditions for data download charges.
If you are unsure whether your child can manage costs, talk to the phone provider about blocking their access to premium service numbers and the internet. Mobile phone providers must block all premium SMS or MMS services on request.
Many mobile phones provide features that enable the use of internet and location based services. While these functions are useful they bring potential risks.
Mobile phones can provide access to the internet 24 hours a day, and possibly without the filter and supervision that can be provided from home internet accounts. This means children and teens may be able to access inappropriate content. To manage this risk it is important for parents to establish rules about when they can access the internet and the types of content they can access. If you are concerned about your child’s internet access contact your mobile phone company for assistance with blocking internet functionality on the mobile phone.
Location based services enable social networking users to report their physical location to others via their mobile phone. This is an increasingly popular function in services like Foursquare and Facebook. Using this function, children and teens can use mobiles to physically locate friends and others from social networking sites. Individuals can check-in’ from a location to let others know their whereabouts. On some social networking services the location based functions are turned on by default.
To manage these services, encourage your child to review their social networking settings to block the function, or to limit who sees their location based information. You may also like to contact your mobile phone company for assistance with blocking internet, Bluetooth and GPS functionality on their child’s mobile phone to limit their ability to notify others of their whereabouts.
Mobile phones are sometimes used by children and young people to cyber bully one another. To manage this risk it is important to talk to children about cyber bullying, to encourage them to report cyber bullying and to agree on strategies to address cyber bullying before it occurs. Cyber bullying messages should be saved and can be reported to mobile phone companies or, in serious cases, to police. Visit the cyber bullying section for more detailed information and advice.
Sexting refers to the sending of provocative or sexual photos, messages, or videos, generally using a mobile phone. It can also include posting this type of material online. While sharing suggestive images or text messages may seem like innocent flirting or be funny for young people, sexting can have serious social and legal consequences. To help protect their image both online and offline, young people need to consider how they manage their own messages and images, and others’.
This following section provides detailed tips for parents to help young children, older children and teenagers manage mobile phone costs and safety.
While few very young children will have access to their own mobile phone, some may and other may have access to their parents’ or siblings phones from time to time. The following tips can help guide young children in the safe use of mobile phone.
Older children may have their own phone, use their parents’ phone or have access to those of their friends. The following tips can help guide children in the safe use of mobiles.
Many teens are enthusiastic mobile phone users and may have access to their own, and their friends’ mobiles. The following tips can help guide your teen in the safe and responsible use of mobiles.
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