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Average Age For Child To Have First Mobile Is Now 8
Journalist: David Derbyshire
April 20, 2005

The average age for children to be given their first mobile phone has fallen to eight, a new report shows.

A million youngsters between the ages of five and nine now own a phone - double the number two years ago. Another half a million are expected to have a mobile by the end of the year.

The findings show that parents are ignoring official health warnings about the hypothetical risks of mobile phone radiation on developing brains. Psychologists are also concerned that overprotective parents are "mollycoddling" young children and denying them the freedom needed to develop into mature teenagers.

The Mobile Youth report looked at the behaviour of 1,000 children around the world, including 345 in Britain. It estimated that a quarter of five- to nine-year-olds have phones.

The average age at which a child gets their first phone is eight - compared with 12 in the United States. It predicts that the number of under-16s owning a mobile phone will grow to 5.5 million this year - a rise of around 500,000 on 2004.

Most children under the age of 10 use their phones to stay in touch with their parents, said Graham Brown, the chief executive officer of Wireless World Forum, the research company behind the study. "They are using mobile phones to speak directly to mum or dad - or as a one way communication from a parent, usually after school or when parents are out at work," he said.

Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, has called on parents to ban under-eights from using mobile phones and wants teenagers to restrict their use and rely more on sending text messages.

Although there is no hard evidence that mobile phone radiation is harmful to people, there are concerns about a hypothetical risk to developing brains.

However, Mr Brown said children under 10 were mostly occasional users of mobile phones and rarely used them "excessively".

The findings are more evidence that the apron strings tying parents to their children are stronger than ever.

"As a child grows up in the early teens they start to develop a sense of independence and become more mobile socially and their parents lose a bit of control over them," he said.

"Parents in some instances use a mobile phone as a bargaining tool - it's one way they can exert some control over their kids. Children have to conform to what their parents want in return for getting their mobile phone bills paid."

Some psychologists have argued that children thrive under conditions of "benign neglect", and that constant parental supervision or contact deprives them of the independence they need to develop into mature adults.

Even on a "character building" gap year abroad, teenagers are rarely more than a mobile phone or e-mail away from their friends and family at home.

Dr Nick Barlow, a child psychologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said mobile phones could give parents a false sense of confidence.

"Parents are buying them to give a sense of security," he said. "However, all these things possibly lead to less independence than a child would have had five or 10 years ago."

Michael Clarke, radiation expert at the Health Protection Agency, said there was a contradiction in parents calling for mobile phone masts to be erected away from schools and then allowing their youngsters access to handsets which expose them to far higher levels of radiation.

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