A uSwitch.com report found the average child gets their first mobile aged 11 years and eight months – soon after starting secondary school. But more than a million received a phone before they started primary school.
Parents claim they need to give their child a phone as security in case of emergencies and to give themselves peace of mind. However a children’s organisation warned giving a child their own phone could encourage them to become sedentary, wasting time in front of screens browsing social networks, rather than being active at play.
A study released earlier this week found that half of all seven-year-olds sit still for seven hours a day – around half their waking hours.
“Phones are no longer just a way of speaking to someone or leaving a message, they are passports to the internet and all sorts of electronic activity,” said Marguerite Hunter Blair, chief executive of Play Scotland.
“Between the crucial ages of nought and eight, their brains are so alive they soak everything up like a sponge, and they need to have experiences in the real world and not just the virtual world.
“To introduce children to phones at such a young age, especially to have one of their own rather than just dipping in and out of their parents’, is worrying as they may forsake all other forms of play experiences in favour of the electronic one.”
A separate study from telecoms firm TalkTalk found almost half of parents insist on their child having a phone, but more than two-thirds worry that children do not have enough protection when going online on their mobile handsets.
Youngsters spend an average £11 a month on mobile bills – less than their parents who typically spend £19, according to uSwitch.com.
However, more than one in ten spends more than their parents.
Meanwhile, parents fork out an average of £125 for their children’s handsets, the equivalent of an entry-level smartphone.
Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com warned that youngsters could run up large bills, especially if they are given smartphones, which eat up data when used for surfing the internet and for browsing social networks such as Facebook.
Around four in ten parents say they do not bother to monitor what their children spend on their phones, although a quarter place caps on their child’s contracts and 3 per cent disable the data function, stopping youngsters from browsing the internet.
“If you do give in to your kids’ requests, asking networks to place caps on their mobile bills takes about five minutes and is a very sensible precaution, especially if your child has a data-hungry smartphone,” Mr Doku added.
“Make sure that when they’re at home, your kids are browsing the web using wi-fi instead of consuming data by connecting to the internet via 3G or 4G.”
John Cooke, chief executive of the Mobile Operators Association, added: “Our surveys have consistently found that parents believe the advantages of their children having a mobile phone outweigh the disadvantages.”