Safety in numbers
In the Eighties, you had to have a 10p piece. In the Nineties, it
was all about BT Chargecards that only let you phone one number.
But in the Noughties, a childs lifeline to home comes in the
form of a mobile phone.
This week a survey revealed that one in four primary school children
has their own mobile. The number has almost doubled since 2001,
as parents push aside scares about radiation and brain cancer in
the name of keeping their child safe by staying in contact.
There are those who believe this signals the end of the English
language as we know it. The current generation of twentysomethings
is said to be struggling to remember the point of vowels, as text
speak establishes itself as the only conversational tool. If the
next generation are sucked into the vortex before they reach ten,
we will have a nation of Dom Joly caricatures before we know it.
But mobiles have their uses. They have proved vital in several
emergencies involving children in recent times. Two years ago, a
couple of East Lothian girls intervened at a beach when a woman
collapsed in the water. They used their mobiles to call the police,
and kept the woman warm until help arrived and she could be taken
to hospital. The emergency services said that the girls quick
response - facilitated by the mobile - saved the womans life.
The two friends have been awarded a Certificate of Commendation
by the Royal Humane Society for their efforts.
A couple of years earlier, an 11-year-old girl was able to summon
help with her mobile when she broke her ankle on an East Lothian
hill. She had been out walking with friends when she slipped and
injured herself, but after contacting the emergency services she
was airlifted to hospital in Edinburgh.
Many parents are now giving their young children mobile phones
as a safety precaution. Niki MacDonald is one mother who followed
the trend so that her ten-year-old son, Jordan, could enjoy more
"We gave him a phone last year for his birthday because I
was worried about him going out alone," says the 30-year-old
"There arent any children of his age around our house,
so he goes down the road to play with some boys there. He had been
borrowing his dads phone for the walk, so we thought it was
better to get him his own one.
"I do feel much happier knowing that he can always phone me.
Since hes had the phone he has been very good at keeping in
touch, always calling if he is going to be late home. If he wants
to play football with some friends after school he can do that now,
because he just gives me a quick call. It saves me worrying that
something has happened to him on the way home."
This, of course, makes perfect sense. But some experts have queried
whether the mobile is really as helpful as parents like to imagine.
Frank Furedi is professor of sociology at Kent University, and author
of Paranoid Parenting, which examines how parents have become progressively
more mollycoddling of their children. He argues that although mobiles
do have a practical use in communicating a childs whereabouts,
it is dangerous to think they offer anything more than this.
"Parents have this idea that by giving their child a mobile
phone they will somehow make them more safe," he says. "That
is just an illusion. The only thing it does is give the parent more
reassurance. It has absolutely no impact on the childs safety
in real terms."
Furedis view is tragically supported by the Soham murder
case. The search for Holly and Jessica may have been helped because
of their mobile phone records, but having the phone in the first
place did nothing to save them from their killer.
"I do have concerns that phones may in fact compound the problem
of child safety, as they distract attention from the real issues,"
says Furedi. "The more you look for technological solutions
to social problems, the more you become pre-occupied with the wrong
things. Parents start thinking that a more expensive phone that
can track their childs whereabouts will give them more protection.
It distracts them from working out sensible strategies for training
their child to be responsible, vigilant and communicative.
"I would rather parents spent more time developing the flow
of communication with their child than on the technological methods
for keeping in touch."
published in the Scotsman, 29 April 2004