What is a ‘dumbphone’ and why are parents buying them for their kids?

What is a ‘dumbphone’ and why are parents buying them for their kids?

One of the trickiest parts of modern parenting is technology. How much should you expose your child to, and at what age?

There’s a tough balance between making sure your kids can contact you whenever they need and limiting exposure to the more toxic elements of smartphones and our constantly connected world.

This is where ‘dumbphones’ come in, and they’re fast becoming a go-to purchase for parents. So what is it all about?

What is a dumbphone?

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A dumbphone is the new term for a basic phone: a mobile that isn’t connected to the internet. Cast your mind back to the brick phone you probably had in the early 2000s – it’s basically the same thing. It lets you call and text, but you won’t be able to scroll through Instagram or check Facebook.

It’s not just parents buying these phones for their kids, there’s also an increasing trend of adults using them as well. For some, it’s an opportunity to have a semi-digital detox – to hit pause on the distractions of social media, while still being able to contact your friends and family.

Why are parents buying them?

These basic phones mean parents can stay connected with their child, while limiting their access to social media.

According to a report from Ofcom, social media and messaging sites can be a huge source of societal pressures for children. Of the 12 to 15-year-olds who use apps like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram, 78% feel there is pressure to look popular and 90% said people are mean to each other at least ‘sometimes’.

Parenting expert Suzie Hayman says: “There are issues with smartphones because a smartphone is basically a conduit to the world. It opens the possibility of going online and it also means that people online can get to you, and I think if you’re going to give a smartphone to a young person you have to be very clear about what the possibilities are of what might happen.”

For many parents, a dumbphone is a way of making sure their kids aren’t constantly on social media – and if they do use it, it’s under supervision.

It can also help with the struggles of parenting in a multi-screen world – Ofcom says 44% of parents of 12-15s find it hard to control their kids’ screen time.

As an added bonus, basic phones are a lot cheaper than buying a smartphone – you can buy a Nokia 3310 from Amazon. And yes, it still has Snake.

Who would particularly benefit from a basic phone?

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Parents are increasingly buying dumbphones as first handsets for younger kids. They’re appealing because they have a long battery life, are basically unbreakable and easy to use.

Hayman does stress that “a primary school student has no reason to have a phone.” In her opinion, unless family circumstances dictate it (for example, if you’re in a split family and the child needs to contact the parent they’re not living with) you should only be buying a phone when your child goes to high school.

“Phones come into play when a child goes to secondary school and is maybe travelling to school on their own or wants to go out with friends on their own,” she explains. Hayman thinks starting a child out on a basic phone as their first handset is a good idea, because it gives them the opportunity to “show that they understand the responsibility, show they understand what they’re getting into when they get a smartphone. It should be something that’s earned, not automatically given”.

What else should parents think about?

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For Hayman, it’s not quite enough to just give your child a phone – basic or smart. She thinks the most important thing is to talk to your kids about the possibilities and dangers that can come with phones. “I think at the age of 11 or 12, just handing something like this over without any real discussion, without any really knowledge of what’s going on, is immensely dangerous,” she says.

Dumbphones are almost like training wheels – Hayman says they can be used to “show that they [the child] understand what the ramifications are and can manage it.”

As well as having open discussions about what can happen on phones, Hayman says: “The most important thing that parents ought to be doing is modelling behaviour. It’s no good giving your child a lecture that they shouldn’t be on social media if you permanently have your nose stuck in your own mobile phone.”

Social media isn’t always a negative influence for kids – the same report from Ofcom found that nine in 10 social media users aged 12-15 said it made them feel happy or feel closer to their friend, but dumbphones are a good way of delaying or limiting social media use. It’s equally as important to teach children about the benefits of the internet though, and to give them the tools to be safe online.

- Press Association

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