According to child safety experts, the most common age for a child to get a phone is between 12-13, in the UK this ties in with when a child is in the early years of secondary school, and perhaps has started making their own way to school and being more independent. Having a phone at this age allows parents to keep in touch and children to message their friends. 

However, the concern may start when you notice your child becoming too attached to their phone. Are they aimlessly scrolling when they’re supposed to be sleeping? Are they constantly on their device? It may be time to have a conversation with them about this. Whilst they may not be engaging in dangerous activity online, overuse or addiction to devices can have a negative impact on wellbeing. 

With ever increasing use of the internet, apps and online games, we’ve taken a look at how unmonitored use can damage families and children, and how a few small steps can reduce that risk.

Terminology Explained

When reading the list, it is worth bearing in mind that 44% of teenagers take their phones to bed and use them during the night. These terms may be of use to you when talking to your children about the dangers of the internet.

  • Trolling – Being bullied online. Particularly pernicious because it is public, and via smart phones, can be relentless, throughout the day and night. Messages could include “hurt yourself” and other damaging words.
  • Pornography – The average age that a child (male and female) watches pornography is 11 years old. 88% of pornography involves some form of violence towards women. Our children are at risk of being exposed to sexual violence and developing copycat expectations at an incredibly early age.
  • Gaming – 18’ rated games are routinely played by 12 and 13 years olds. The imagery and desensitising nature of this cannot be over emphasised, nor can the risk of addiction and exposure to online groomers.
  • Sexting – Sending intimate self-images to friends that can be widely shared via social media. This can lead to being blackmailed leading to further coercion, damage, or worse. 
  • Online grooming – the CEO of the NSPCC recently described the internet as “a playground for paedophiles”

What can we do?

The inevitable question that arises from this is what can be done? Unfortunately, as parents we have no control over what takes place on the internet, but Fegans strongly believes that what we can control is how we engage with our children’s use of the internet and their devices. Here are some practical tips, you might find helpful:

  1. Do not allow phones or tablets in your children’s bedroom. Any contact that can be used to blackmail or groom your child is more difficult if the internet access is restricted to the lounge or kitchen.
  2. Set clear online boundaries for your children and consequences if the boundaries are broken. For older children, such as those past the minimum age to set up social media profiles, it’s worth having an open and honest discussion about what they’re engaging in online, creating an agreement as to the types of content that are inappropriate.
  3. If your child is an avid, or even addicted, computer user (e.g. gamer) encourage them to have regular breaks from the virtual world, but also spend time in their virtual world. Try to understand, what they enjoy and make a connection with their interests.
  4. Implement parental controls. Most phones and other devices allow for you to set parental controls which will only allow access to approved websites and content. Taking this first step will help put your mind at ease knowing that your child is using their device safely as you’ve minimised any risks from the offset. You can also place child controls on your wifi to ensure that any devices connected to the network are unable to access sites featuring inappropriate content. Bear in mind that some children will be savvy enough to get around these restrictions…
  5. Increase your awareness of the risks involved. The internet is ever-changing, with new risks and dangers being identified constantly, educating yourself is ultimately the best way to stay on top of your child’s safety. If your child can understand how and why things go wrong online so often then they’re much more likely to be receptive to any boundaries you enforce around their internet/social media usage.
  6. Monitor devices. If you’re extremely concerned about a child’s online activity, asking to take a look at who they’re speaking to is one way to know exactly what’s going on. This is only advised when there’s a significant concern as snooping without consent can break trust irrevocably in the parent-child relationship.

For more tips and advice on family wellbeing and children’s mental health, visit