Headteacher shares what age she thinks children should have a mobile phone

Many children are keen to get on social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok
Many children are keen to get on social media apps like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok -Credit:PA

Almost a quarter of UK five-to-seven-year-olds have their own smartphone, according to Ofcom research. Every parent is asked, at some point, by their child for a mobile phone.

But what is the right age to say yes? And how do you police their social media usage once they are online?

Headteacher Rebecca Bakewell says she recognises that it can be convenient for children to have mobiles. However, she feels parents should avoid giving their child a phone to use until they reach an age where they are able to 'regulate their phone usage in a way which supports their overall wellbeing and positive mental health.'

Read more: Five things every parent should tell their child about social media - from a Birmingham headteacher

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"Many students are given a phone when they join secondary school, and we appreciate this can be a very convenient tool to help parents and carers keep in touch with their child as they enter this more independent phase of life," said Ms Bakewell, who is headteacher at City Academy, part of the CORE Education Trust.

"In a number of instances, young people are given smart phones - which of course bring the added functionality many people enjoy, but so too extra responsibility and risk. We work hard to educate our students about the risks, so they can stay safe online and regulate their phone usage in a way which supports their overall wellbeing and positive mental health.

"This can be more challenging for younger students, however, and, while it is different in every family, we advise parents to avoid giving their child a smartphone before the age of 11 - and, importantly, do not allow them to have accounts on platforms like Instagram and TikTok before the permitted age rating of 13."

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Age restrictions for children using social media

Facebook - Facebook Help Centre says that children are required to be at least 13 before they can create an account. If they falsify their date of birth, or someone else does so on their behalf, this is considered a violation of Meta's terms of service.

Instagram - The Instagram Parent and Carer's Guide says the minimum age for an account is 13. New users are asked to provide their age when they sign up for an account.

TikTok - TikTok's Guardian Guide says that the video platform has a 12+ rating in the Apple App Store and is listed as “Parental Guidance Recommended” in Google’s Play Store, which means parents can prevent their teens from downloading TikTok by setting parental controls. A date of birth is required when signing up for this platform.

Snapchat - Snapchat Support says that the app is suitable for young people aged 13+. There's a new Here For You feature that has safety resources to help Snapchatters searching for topics like bullying.

YouTube - YouTube Terms of Service says that children under 18 must have a parent or legal guardian's permission to use the service. It states that 'you may use the service if you are at least 13 years old; however, children of all ages may use the service and YouTube Kids (where available) if enabled by a parent or legal guardian'.

WhatsApp - WhatsApp Help Centre says children must be at least 13 years old to register and use WhatsApp and that creating an account with false information is a violation of its terms.

Listen to our social media advice for kids on the Brummie Mummies Podcast here

Family psychologist Danielle Grey of Purple House said: "There is no golden rule around the appropriate age for a young person to have a mobile phone. Often the decision coincides with the transition to secondary school, when a young person becomes more independent and responsible.

"Importantly, the decision to provide a mobile phone should be guided by a parents/ caregivers' confidence that a young person understands the importance of online safety. Young people should be supported to have conversations about how to safeguard themselves online, privacy and reporting concerns. Parents can also support online safety by using parental control to manage content, screen time and app usage.

"It can feel difficult for parents to keep up with the ever changing technologies and the NSPCC and childnet have some valuable resources. Today's children are growing up in an increasingly complex world, living their lives seamlessly on and off line. It's important to consider boundaries around mobile phone use, for example, no mobile phone use in bedrooms, agreement about when phones will be switched off and time spent winding down before bed."

The University of Birmingham SMART Schools Study

The University of Birmingham has been carrying out a series of focus groups with parents, pupils and teachers as part of the SMART Schools Study all about young people and smartphones. Research fellow Dr Amie Randhawa says that one of the topics often discussed are the decisions about when and why children are given their first phone.

In her 'Back to School' blogpost, she cited a recent Ofcom report which found that 'most children acquire their first phone between the ages of 9 and 11, during which phone ownership rises from 44 percent to 91 percent' - largely linked with the transition from primary to secondary school.

Some, however, get their phones as toddlers - a staggering 17 percent of three to four year-olds - or as young children (28 percent of five to seven year-olds). By the age of 17, 100 percent of adolescents have a mobile phone, according to the study.

Dr Amie Randhawa wrote: "This blog highlights that the decision for parents about when to buy their child their first phone is complex, and they are unable to take a ‘one size fits all’ approach. While there isn’t a magic age for when parents should buy a phone for their child, the data suggests that many children get their phone during ‘early adolescence’, around the same time that they are transitioning to secondary school.

"This is largely influenced by the safety and security offered by phone ownership, children’s growing independence, and parents’ desire to ensure their children are not left out socially. When making their decision, parents might choose to look to other parents for guidance, or assess the maturity of their child, and whether they believe they are ready to own a phone."