It’s a question most parents dread – ‘Can I have a mobile phone?’ Children borrow your phone to play games, to conduct searches, but there comes a time when they believe they are ready and want to have a phone of their own. There is no minimum age limit for mobile phones – it’s a personal decision.

Many parents succumb to buying a mobile when the children go off to secondary school – for ‘keeping in touch’, letting you know when they reach school, etc. It is not long after, however, when they are asking for the ability to download games and apps, and want to join Instagram and Facebook.

We marvel at technology, yet for the younger generation it is the norm – something they have always known. For the first time children are studying a subject that their parents haven’t. Computing lessons include learning all about programming (coding) and digital safety, as well as lessons in algorithms and digital literacy to help solve problems with logic and creativity. Under the new curriculum, children will get an insight into the underlying principles of computing and the digital world. School leavers and university graduates will thus be better prepared for the workplace – the chances are that understanding computing will be important in most cases.

Parents have to embrace the fact that their children will be very much involved in the use of technology. It is even more important for us to realise the dangers of the internet – and discuss these with our children. The internet has been found to exaggerate feelings of insecurity, fragility and the need for approval – especially in children. Evidence suggests that offline and online resilience are linked, meaning that confident children, who are able to deal with risk offline, also tend to be less vulnerable to harm online.

Importantly, the research also tells us that one of the most important factors for online resilience is unconditional support from parents and carers. The best way to help your child avoid harm online is to do the same things you do offline – stay alert to what’s going on and letting them know you are there by their side if anything goes wrong. Explain that the phone needs to be looked after – its valuable not only in term of cost, but also because of the personal information stored on it.

Depending on the age of your child, establishing rules about when they can use their phone, which apps and websites they can access, is a sensible idea. Communication is essentially the key for both parties to know where they stand and what the limits are. Keep safe and keep happy!

Digital Parenting Issue 4