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PROBLEM: KIDS AND MOBILE PHONES
Lisa says her son wants a mobile, but she’s not sure if he’s ready for one…
Racing through the kitchen door, my son kicked off his trainers and headed straight to the fridge.
‘How was the footie?’ I asked Nathaniel, eight.
‘Good,’ he replied, gulping down a fruit juice. ‘I scored two goals.’
‘Nice one!’ I smiled.
Like most boys, Nathaniel - a Man United fan – was football-mad and loved playing with his mates in the park. He was also gadget-crazy and spent hours playing games or downloading music. I couldn’t believe he knew how to do it at his age! My hubby, Daniel, 29, a fridge engineer, was still at work, so I settled in front of the telly with Nathaniel and his six- year-old sister, Charlotte.
‘Can I get a mobile phone?’ Nathaniel asked out of the blue. I rolled my eyes.
‘How many times do I have to say no?’ I replied, exasperated.
‘But why?’ he whined. ‘All my friends have one.’
Ever since Nathaniel’s best friend, Luke, eight, had got one last Christmas, me and his dad had never heard the end of it. ‘No way,’ I said. ‘You’re too young. You don’t need one because you’re always with me or your dad, so you don’t have to call us, and using one is banned at school anyway! Why do you want one so much?’
‘So I can talk to my friends and family,’ he replied. ‘And I want a touchscreen one so I can download music, too.’
‘You can use the landline to phone people,’ I laughed. ‘And you’re definitely too young for one of those expensive phones.’
Nathaniel sulked – just like he always did when me and his dad said no. That night, when Daniel came home, I told him about Nathaniel nagging me for a mobile – yet again!
‘I think he wants one more for the games and music than the actual phone,’ I told Daniel. ‘He sees them as toys.’
‘Expensive toys!’ he said.
‘He’d probably lose it in five minutes,’ Daniel added. ‘He can barely remember to put his shoes on, let alone look after a mobile!’
‘I’m worried it’d get stolen,’ I said. ‘You hear about kids getting into fights over them. Or what if it affected his hearing having it glued to his ear all day?’
I knew that mobile phone tariffs started at about £15 a month, or that we could get him a pay-as-you-go one. Either way, it was an expense we couldn’t really afford – especially if he wanted something like an iPhone.
‘Are they really safe?’ asked Daniel. ‘You can connect to the internet on most of them these days. We wouldn’t know what he was looking at.’
‘I know,’ I shuddered. ‘The whole idea worries me, but I know he’s going to keep asking. And before we know it, Charlotte will be, too!’
Even though me and Daniel agree that Nathaniel isn’t old enough to have a mobile, I appreciate that kids these days are way more technologically advanced than I ever was at that age, and that my son is only following his peers.
So what am I supposed to do? Am I right to put my foot down and say no? Should I get him a mobile now, or stick to my guns and tell him he has to wait till he’s older? And, if so, at what age should I let him have one?
Lisa Ellert, 29, Norwich, Norfolk
Sarah believes kids don’t need a mobile phone until high school…
Rifling through my handbag for my mobile, I flicked it open and saw it was my daughter calling.
‘Hi,’ I said. ‘Everything OK?’
Isabelle, 11, had just popped to the shop with her brother to get some sweets.
‘Sort of,’ she mumbled. ‘The shopkeeper says we need an extra 50p!’
‘Oh, right,’ I replied.
‘Give me a minute to get my shoes on and I’ll be right there.’
Five minutes later, I paid the extra money and walked home with Isabelle and her nine-year-old brother, Joseph.
‘It’s lucky you had your phone on you,’ I said as she chomped on her sweets.
When Isabelle asked me to get her a mobile last year, when she was 10, at first I said no.
‘What does a child need a mobile for?’ I thought. Her school allowed them, as long as they were switched off and kept in the kids’ bags during lessons. Still, I was concerned that if I bought Isabelle a phone, she’d run up an enormous bill, or get addicted to texting and become a recluse!
But all her friends were getting them, and as the months passed and Isabelle turned 11, I wanted her to have more independence. So, I started thinking a mobile might be a good idea, after all. It would give me peace of mind if she was late home. She could simply call me to let me know, instead of me panicking about where she was.
A single mum, I discussed the issue with the kids’ dad.
‘I can buy her a cheap pay-as-you-go phone,’ he suggested. ‘I’ll put £10 credit on it every month, so you don’t have to worry about the bills.’
The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I hated the thought of her getting lost or hurting herself and not being able to contact me. Also, if I was worried where she was, I could call her.
‘We can get her one for her 11th birthday,’ we agreed.
Luckily, Isabelle was sensible, so she didn’t make expensive calls and kept texting to a minimum. Still, while a mobile was right for Isabelle, I wouldn’t buy Joseph one just yet. He doesn’t need one and, like Nathaniel, he’d probably lose it anyway! He’s still too young. Boys should be playing outside with their mates, not stuck indoors yapping on the phone, or playing yet another computer game on a mobile.
If you do decide to get Nathaniel a mobile, then I suggest you teach him to keep it zipped up in his bag unless he’s using it. Tell him not to walk and talk at the same time – that way, he won’t lose it or get it stolen. Choose your package wisely and make sure it’s suited to short calls and a few texts, so you don’t get a scary bill! I suggest that you go with your instincts on this one, Lisa, and wait until Nathaniel is a bit older.
Continually asking for a mobile is a phase he’ll grow out of. Stick to your guns and feel confident that saying no, for now, is the right decision.
Sarah Watt, 42, Cardiff