Mobile Phones and Children – When is the Right Time?

Do you remember when you were a child and bright red phone boxes could be found at the end of almost all streets? I was a ‘free range’ child. I used to comb the streets and fields with my friends from early in the morning until dusk from a fairly young age. If I got into trouble there were many houses I could knock at for help. Often though I used a public phone box, reversing the charges to my parents to ask them to pick me up or asking if I could stay out a bit longer.

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Today though I couldn’t tell you where my nearest public phone box is, I don’t actually think there is one in my town. Of course this is obviously down to demand, most adults have a mobile phone and have no need for the antiquated technology that is a public pay phone. What about the children though? When my children are out and about with their friends, or walking home from school, they cannot do as I did as a child because the option is just not there any more.

This is the most compelling reason why I believe that children should have access to a mobile phone when they are at an age that they are out and about by themselves. For years I have ignored the pleas for phones from my children because “all my friends have one”, or “because I want to use apps, play games and go on the internet”. In my opinion if a child is not out alone then they don’t need a phone. Alarmingly research has shown than one in ten children have their own phone by the age of five years which I feel is much too soon. The average age at which children have their own phone sits around the age of eleven, the age at which they start secondary school and many are finally afforded more independence.

My eldest is now 13 and branching out into the world alone more and more each week. He has had a very basic (think £9.99 handset) PAYG phone for a few years that he has taken out with him for emergencies and had with him on his walk to and from school. Now however he’s at an age that communication is becoming a more and more important part of his life. He is arranging to meet with his friends at the weekend and enjoys chatting to and texting with his friends on an ever increasing basis. Similarly he is just branching out into age appropriate social media. For this reason I felt it was important that he had his own smart phone and contract.

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As he’s only 13 however I know only too well that his brain is not yet fully developed and that he has little to no self control or concept of risk. For this reason I wasn’t keen on a contract where I might be landed with large unexpected bills. As the phone is an important means of contact however I didn’t want to stick with a PAYG plan, if ever he needed to contact me in an emergency I didn’t want to be restricted to him only being able to do so when he was in credit. For this reason I was keen to try the offer of reviewing a Capped contract plan from Tesco Mobile.

The premise behind Tesco Mobile Capped contracts is especially appealing to parents purchasing a phone for their children. They allow parents to set a capped limit, which can be set above the usual monthly tariff, which means that the minutes/texts or data is there when needed, but also comes with peace of mind that the child will never rack up expensive bills above the monthly capped limit. Once the bill cap is reached Tesco Mobile stops any further charges. You also have the flexibility to remove or change the buffer at a later date too. Our contract is £10 per month (without the cost of the actual phone) and includes 1000 mins, 5000 texts and 1GB of data. We also have a safety buffer of £2.50 per month too, but I’m pleased to say we haven’t yet had to use it! Knowing it’s there when we need it is incredibly reassuring though.

As for choosing a phone, this is where I put my hands up and say I don’t “do” technology. So this is a decision I’m pleased to say I didn’t have to navigate as Tesco Mobile very kindly gave us a Samsung Galaxy S6 to trial. I’m not a gadget kind of person, but even I will admit that the phone looks great. It’s chunky so won’t get lost easily (if you have a 13 year old boy you’ll know how important that is) and is also big enough to use for homework research. It has also proven to be significantly hardy and has already survived several drops and falls! My son is particularly enamoured with the biometric (fingerprint) screen locking, which is apparently “well cool”.

All in all our experience of both the phone and the Tesco Capped contract has been incredibly positive and something I would recommend. I would particularly recommend the Capped contract based on the peace of mind it gives knowing that you won’t get any unexpected high bills but your child can still contact you if their regular monthly usage is exceeded.



I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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