I remember the day I got my first mobile phone.

It was 1998, when I was thinner, and phones were fatter.

Mine was the size of a small brick with a thick rubbery antenna sticking out the top, and it made beeping sounds when you pushed the squishy light-up buttons. The screen showed a single line of digits only (reading a long text message was an exercise in saintly patience) and it refused to fit in any pocket ever designed outside of military combat uniforms.

If you handed it to a young person now they’d probably stare at you blankly and wonder how anyone played Pokemon on a screen that small.

I hated it. Back then mobile phones were totally uncool. They were for “yuppies” and boring businessmen, not hip teens with ripped jeans like me. But my dad thought I needed one “for safety”, so I reluctantly shoved it in my bag, hoping no one ever saw me talk on it.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the mobile phone is the absolute epicentre of youth culture, around which all social activity revolves. Teenagers barely let their phones out of their sight, let alone shove them into a bag. Kids are practically born with a touch screen in their hand. (One thing hasn’t changed though: they still don’t want to actually talk on them).

Eleven per cent of eight and nine year olds and 67 per cent of 12 to 13 year olds have their own mobile phone, according to the most recent research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority’s Cybersmart Outreach division.

And a 2015 Telstra survey showed children as young as three now own smartphones; a really useful device for a toddler who can barely talk or even recognise numbers or the alphabet.

What I want to know is: why are parents buying their children mobiles in the first place? Does an eight-year-old really need a phone “for safety” when they can’t even leave the house by themselves? What important business does a 12-year-old have that they need a smartphone with a full suite of apps?

I was 18 when I got my first phone, and I reckon that’s about right. You turn 18: you can vote, you can drink, you can text. Any earlier seems unnecessary, not to mention possibly damaging: we’re all aware of the scourge of cyber bullying. We’ve all seen the recent stories about disgusting porn sites where male students share photos of their female counterparts.

We accept that young people can’t drink alcohol until they’re 18 because we accept that exposure to the drug before that age is harmful.

I reckon it’s not such a bad idea to apply the same logic to mobile phone use.

It seems I’m not alone; this week a Queensland private school made headlines for its controversial policy banning the devices from classrooms.

At Kimberley College, about 40km south east of Brisbane, students must hand their phones to teachers at the start of every day. If a student is caught with a phone on campus the device is confiscated, and the principal has the power to look at and even copy its contents.

Any student found with content on their phone that breaches school policy, regardless of whether it was accessed or created during school hours, faces suspension or expulsion.

It’s harsh, certainly, and I can’t say I’m not bothered by the ethics of teachers going through students’ private information on their phones.

But a phone-free school seems like a no-brainer. I can’t think of a single reason why a child would need to use a mobile during the school day. Why do they even have them?

With more and more children owning smartphones, perhaps the real problem is dumb parents.


First published in The Advertiser on September 25, 2016. CLICK HERE to read the original article.