Dutch kids, mobile phones and the risk they pose
Dutch children spend about a quarter of their pocket money on mobile phone calls, according to a T-mobile survey, just as the telecoms company launches a subscription plan aimed at families. But just how good is it for children to have mobile phones?
A survey by telecoms company T-mobile has shown that children in the Netherlands spend almost a quarter of their pocket money on mobile phone calls. While the kids might pay for some of their calls themselves, 70 percent of the parents surveyed regularly give their child belgeld ('call money')—on average EUR 13 a month.
The publication of the survey's findings coincides with T-mobile’s launch of a family subscription package, which allows up to six family members to call and text each other for free. With only one in the group paying a monthly extra of EUR 10 on top of their normal subscription, the new deal should work out cheaper than individual subscriptions and/or ‘pay-as-you-go’ credit for several people.
Good news perhaps for those families already communicating with mobiles but making it cheaper to do so will inevitably lead more parents to consider arming their kids with phones. This begs the question, is it a good thing for kids to have mobiles?
According to the survey of one thousand parents in the Netherlands, one in four children is given a mobile phone when they are between six and eight years old, and most children own one by the time they go to secondary school. Parents cited ’security‘ as the main reason for giving their child a phone.
Marieke Zegers, mother of seven-year-old Valentijn, believes her son is too young to have a phone and insists that giving a child a phone does not make them any more secure. Rather, she says, it gives the parents an artificial feeling of security, pointing out that “children with phones can still drown, have accidents, get robbed or harassed or steal candy in the local shop.”
She goes on to question parents’ true motives and wonders whether what they really want is to be able to check and control their child without being with them: their child is never out of their ‘sight’ yet the parent need not spend time with them. Or perhaps a phone is another accessory with which parents can ‘pimp’ their child, along with expensive clothes, jewellery and toys.
The expense of the handset is an additional factor in the decision of whether to buy a child a mobile phone. Can kids be made responsible for such costly, easily lost devices? Zegers thinks otherwise, from her experience with her seven-year-old’s handheld games console: “As parents we have to see to it that his Nintendo is put away in a safe place.”
For Zegers, the child’s age is the most important issue and cheaper calls would make no difference. She expects that by age nine or 10 Valentijn will be responsible enough to take care of a phone.
Mike de Haan, father of seven-year-old Ties, agrees children of that age are simply too young to be entrusted with their own phone. Aside from the cost of the device or calls, he worries about children’s exposure to television adverts inviting them to ”just dial 9922 for this fun thing” when, he believes, they have no notion of the costs involved.
His take on the matter is clear: “I would never give my kids a mobile phone at six or seven,” he firmly states. “It’s ridiculous.”
Expat mother Natasha Gunn relented and gave her nine- and 10-year-old daughters their own phones at Christmas after a year of “nagging”. At nine, the eldest had complained that everyone in her school class had one. “It's part of growing up in this century,” Gunn acknowledges.
For Gunn, the motivation was for her kids to be able to let her know when they were going to a friend’s house after school, and call her or the police in an emergency: ‘security’, again; the same reason given by the majority of Dutch parents who took the survey.
She chose to give them reasonably priced, basic handsets—no camera or video function—with prepaid SIM cards to stop them running up large bills. But it seems parents risk a slippery—and costly—slope by giving that first phone: “After a couple of days, the eldest’s EUR 10 credit is gone. And they want an upgrade already to have state-of-the-art phones like other kids in their class!” she says.
”I guess kids suffer just as much as adults from the ‘grass-is-greener’ syndrome; and there will always be others with a more attractive, super-functional, trendy model than their own,” muses Gunn.
“After all, don’t kids simply reflect society as a whole?" she adds.
”To bring about any change, it’s the parents who should take the lead.”
Anna Ritchie / Expatica