One of the big questions facing modern parents is no longer if they should buy their child a mobile phone, but when.

And as phones become more powerful, allowing users to share photos and videos on an increasing number of social media sites, concerns about possible misuse by children are heightened.

British technology guru Stephen Heppell says there is no “too young”, and children as young as three or four could benefit from having a smartphone.

“Like crayons and books, the earlier we get children comfortable with them, the better, ” he told The West Australian.

“The analogy is a bit like swimming in the Swan River — for safety, we wouldn’t keep them away from water until they were 15 and then chuck them off a pier, we’d help them develop water safety, common sense, awareness and caution.”

Professor Heppell, from the centre for excellence in media practice at Bournemouth University, advises Australian schools on technology for learning. He said giving a phone to a young child helped them understand the different components in their “hyper-connected world”.

He said a child given a phone at age five would have fun writing texts to grandparents, then happily put it to one side and continue to value books and other activities. “A kid who has to wait till 10 for a phone will put everything else down and focus completely on the long-awaited phone, ” he said. “Parents will not be able to prise it from their hands.”

Professor Heppell stressed that parents and teachers had to use common sense and make sure children observed recommended age ratings for all digital media.

Australian Communications and Media Authority senior adviser Rosalie O’Neale said there was no right age for a child to get a phone because it depended on how responsible the child was.

Parents should talk to children about how to stay safe online “as soon as a child picks up a device or starts interacting online”.

Ms O’Neale said it was important for parents to establish rules for mobile use, such as where it would be put at night and sharing images online, and to keep talking about how they used social media until adulthood.

“A lot of parents give their children an iPod thinking it’s just for music — and it’s not, ” she said.

Network for Internet Investigation and Research Australia president Philip Tam said many parents did not realise how powerful smartphones were. “They are essentially a powerful super computer they can carry around in their pocket, ” he said.

Some common internet/texting acronyms:

IMO - In my opinion

KOTL - Kiss on the lips

TBH - To be honest

WYD - What you doing?

YW - You’re welcome

IDK - I don’t know

BTW - By the way

JK/JJ - Just kidding/Just joking

IDC - I don’t care

LMK - Let me know

OMG - Oh my God

LOL - Laughing out loud

ROFL - Rolling on floor laughing

LMAO - Laughing my a*** off

OTF - On the floor (laughing)

WBU - What about you?

NP - No problem

WTH/WTF - What the hell/What the f***

IMO/IMHO - In my (humble) opinion

ASL - Age/sex/location?

IRL - In real life

TTYL - Talk to you later

THX - Thanks

F2F - Face to face

ILY - I love you

PAL/PAW - Parents are listening/parents are watching

PPL - People

NSFW - Not safe for work


© The West Australian

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