Friday, April 3, 2009

Handphones vs no handphones

Should children be given a handphone? On one hand it is great for convenience if they need to contact their parents or for parents to know where they are in any emergency. On the other hand, giving your child a handphone exposes the child to a whole host of risks.

We can't ignore the advance of technology. We can't compare our time to that of our children or grandchildren. The technology is here, now, why not use it to our advantage?
Children should be given handphones and taught how to use it NOT abuse it. Parents have to be responsible too, not just buy the latest model and leave it to the child to show off. A responsible parent will make sure the child make good use of the handphone. On the other hand the parent should not use the handphone as a tool to trail their young teenagers every second of the time. They will feel restricted and rebel, of course. So the question is not about whether to give them a handphone or not. The age of the child is also not important since 3 year-olds are seen to be pretending to talk on toy handphones like adults. The question is whether WE as parents are responsible enough to guide our children and turn them into responsible children or teenagers.

Here are two opposing opinions to the question of whether a child should be given a handphone:

Noor Nirwandy Mat Nordin, project director of Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia, deputy chairman of the Communications & Multimedia Consumer Forum of Malaysia (CFM)

I don't think that children should be given handphones until after the age of 16. It exposes them to too many risks.

During our time we could only talk to boys and girls on the phone under our parents' observation. We could never send SMSes to our girlfriends or boyfriends. So if we did anything wrong, we would get caught and punished on the spot.

The initial intention (for giving the handphone) is to provide facilities for us to know where our kids are but we must think twice before doing so. I advice parents to know how to adopt the technology before giving a mobile phone to their child. For instance, you must know if the phone given to your child only has the basics or if it's more than that.

But I still oppose just giving a basic phone. For me, not giving a phone is the best solution.

Secondly, you must impose regulations and an audit system. You must audit your child's behaviour. For instance, every night take the phone and browse through it. You should also have stricter guidelines such as using a prepaid number and giving them maybe RM10 of credit for one week or give the child a phone that is registered under the parent's name for better control.

There are no boundaries in communications these days – children can communicate through their phones, e-mail, chat. While you may not be able to stop them, you can minimise the communication.

We (CFM) have had complaints where parents say it is very easy for strangers to ask their underaged girl out for lunch or dinner. Having a phone opens up the opportunity for others to do bad things.

We want to minimise the risk factors. Problems in school with not doing the homework because of the handphone – that is secondary. We are more concerned about the bigger consequences of having a handphone like social problems – rape and having sexual intercourse at a young age.

For parents, if there are risks involved and you have calculated and you know that the risks won't benefit you, why take the risk? Better not to have the risk at all by not giving them a handphone.

Lim Fun Jin, technical director at ISA Technologies, father of two boys aged four and 15 months

I think it is inevitable that we give them handphones. I guess the key question is when is the right time. My personal experience from having a handphone and using it is that my social life is much more enhanced with a handphone in terms of connecting with my peers. I think for kids it's the same.

Parents buy their children phones for security reasons or for them to contact the kids but from the kids' point of view I believe it's to connect with their friends. As we know, today, social networking is part of our lives – from Facebook to simple things like using the phone for SMS.

But I guess the question for me is when is the right time and what is the purpose – is it part of the experience process or part of the IQ-EQ development to develop things beyond the academic side. Getting them to network and having a social life and friends – I think it's a good thing but obviously there's also abuse in terms of chalking up crazy amounts of bills and things like that. Those I think are the main concerns of parents.

Getting them a handphone is about educating them and teaching them to be responsible – what are you going to use it for, what are the guidelines. Yes, definitely there'll be elements of social networking but how far do you go? Kids have lots of friends but up till what age and what are their intentions? Nowadays you can pass a lot of multimedia messages over and some of the content may not be suitable for kids. So you're always exposed to these kinds of concerns.

But I think if the kid has been groomed to be responsible then by all means. I feel it's a good thing to have that responsibility than not to have it. We can always take the view that we will always shield them so that they don't have to face these kinds of difficult decisions and responsibility but in a lot of ways I find that the grounding is more important.

You need to ground them right and from there give them the responsibility and see where it goes. If it gets abused then withdraw the benefit.

My peers and I actually made some observations at a recent reunion. What we found was that you can be very good academically but the social element in terms of overall career development is actually a very important factor. And when does it start?

Social networking actually starts when we're young. But you must make sure the academic part is never missed out in lieu of the social part. I feel that things like phones, exposure to computers, even experiences with technology devices is a very good thing. It's a good experience to expand your social network.

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