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Deciding when to give your child their first mobile phone

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"My friend Mark at school has a mobile phone," my grade one son said last week.

For a moment I felt a surprising sense of shock and panic.

Had my seven-year old baby boy grown to be a phone-carrying young man already? And should I be giving him a phone, and if so when? Were all the other parents at school equipping their kids with phones? Was I the only mum not to do so?

It turned out that only a few of his primary school mates have phones.

giving kids their first phone when to give your child their first phone

And a Facebook polling session revealed that most of my friends won't give their kids a phone until they are independent enough to make their own way to and from school. Usually this means when the child is heading off to high school.

For my children, their coming of age will likely involve the independence of having their own mobile phone.

And not just any phone - they wouldn't be seen dead without a half-decent smartphone. In fact, my kids probably don't know how to operate older technology.

The issue is that in the quest to look cool and fit in with their friends, most kids aren't really thinking about the cost of their phones or the data they are using on them. This poses a problem for frugal parents looking for cheaper solutions.

Most parents I know will give their kids a hand-me-down handset. This is a good solution where parents regularly upgrade their phone every few years.

But if you plan to hold onto your phone rather than pay $2000 for a new iPhone, then you need another solution.

In recent times, the market for buying refurbished phones has become more sophisticated.

They aren't super cheap, but you are looking at hundreds rather than thousands of dollars. The trick is to get in quickly as many of the phones sell out quickly.

The other essential is to opt for a good value plan with enough data. It is false economy to purchase a plan that doesn't have enough data - you will just get hit by fees if (more likely when) they download too much data.

Teens are going to use their phones a lot, even if they cross their hearts and swear to die promise they won't. That's because much of their socialisation happens online.

Of course, have a conversation about the cost of data and rules for using the phone, including what games or apps are acceptable and basic social media etiquette. And check in with them semi-regularly to find out what they are watching and downloading.

But also prepare for the likelihood they will use their phones a lot.

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