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GLOBAL – While mobile phones have changed the way adults communicate with the rest of the world,  it has also changed the way in which our children communicate, too. Many might bemoan an age of lost innocence. But are there any special benefits to the young using mobile technology? Are we allowing the next generation to become too reliant on these little devices? And at what age should they be allowed them? We think this is an interesting debate, so join in and tell us what you think.

For the parents out there, it’s easy to suggest that giving a child a phone is a bad idea. Parents – older than the children – can be unsure of the consequences of this technology, especially if they were raised in an analogue world. If you were raised before the dawn of digital you’re considered to be digital immigrants, where you’ve had to adapt and learn technology. For the children born well into the digital revolution – like all children are – they’re referred to as digital natives where an analogue life never existed and using tech is as natural as using pen and paper.

There’s an interesting debate to be had here and we’re going to go through some reasons why we think that technology in the hands of the young is a good thing that could be used to inspire and benefit them.

Building networks
We don’t mean the social kind like Facebook or Twitter, but real life networks. Just because they’re children that doesn’t mean their friendships aren’t important. Actually, being able to make friends and have the right tools to keep them at a young age make it much easier to build friendships as an adult, because interacting with others outside the family unit allows them to understand social behaviours and learn what’s acceptable in general life situations. So you could argue that building networks is more important as a child than an adult. If technology can help with this, then it should be encouraged and keeping them connected to their friends so they can build stronger relationships could seem more important than we realise.

Capturing the world
Have you ever browsed through the photos on your phone and found some truly unique, obscure images that you know you didn’t take? Children have an interesting perspective of the world around them and don’t use the same rules that normally apply. So lining up the shot, making sure the sun is in the right place doesn’t really mean anything to kids. They see something that interests them, it could be a worm in a puddle and find it fascinating, probably giving you a slightly out of focus shot while they capture its image. Beautiful.

Alternatively, there’s no reason why the camera on a phone can’t be used in school to help teach children in a fun and interesting way. A teacher may request that the class spends 30 minutes out on the field taking photos of five different species of plant and then return to class to write up about them using the images they’ve taken, rather than just reading up about them in books.

Home movies
Every kid likes to pretend they’re a pirate, or a princess – depending on the child of course, often creating their own scenes from the top of their heads. Armed with a phone with a video camera on-board you can ask them to make a movie about anything they like for family playback later, through the TV should your phone support it. Good family fun.

Playing games
Most mobile phones now come equipped with games, and while playing too much might cause a child to become socially isolated, playing for some of the time can actually have benefits. Hand to eye coordination, problem-solving and the ability to make decisions can all be learned from video games. Believe it or not, I learned how to touch type playing games back in the 90s on my home PC as most action games required input using a keyboard and commands, which also meant spelling correctly was important too.

Videogames are often seen as a bit of an evil, with parents thinking they might be distracting, damaging or somehow corrupt the minds of the young. While I’d agree that shoot ’em ups or war games will clearly be unsuitable for anybody of a young age, child-friendly games can provide a fantasy world where things can be learnt, the imagination sparked or some fun can be had.

It seems we have no problem allowing a child to sit with their face in a book for hours on end but not playing games for the same length of time. There are, of course, benefits to reading books, but there are in playing games too, as they learn a different skill set to that of reading. Moderate game playing seems like a good idea, as long as it’s suitable for the age group.

Feeling safe
The main reason parents give their kids a phone is for security. If they’re late in picking children up from school or just checking up on them when they’ve not returned home on time, a mobile phone is an invaluable piece of equipment that provides a feeling of safety for both the parent and the child.

We’re not suggesting that children spend hours on a phone, or even that they are bought a brand new one. We think that would be a bad idea: an old hand-me-down should be sufficient. However, if children are encouraged to use mobile phones in way that would help them learn, maintain important friendships or to just enable them to be more creative then we don’t think having a mobile phone at a young age should be discouraged.

Having talked about a few positive reasons as to why we think mobile phones can be useful for kids, we’re very aware of the debate concerning possible health risks associated with prolonged mobile use (when making phone calls) – so we advise any parent to keep up date with medical research from reliable sources. In any case, we’ve all heard horror stories of children running up massive bills, so you might want to keep the phone offline until you can trust them.

So what is the right age for a child to have a mobile phone? The general views we’ve found searching the Web is that anywhere between 12-15 is an average age, but many parents are giving phones to children as young as 8. Let us know your thoughts and opinions, below.

image credits: Title – mangee, building networks – amanda.venner, capturing the world – Altaide, feeling safe – Tom Simpson.