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How to protect children from mobile phones

It’s something of a national sport to sneer at the antics of our respected representatives in Europe. But there can be little doubt that the EU's plan to tackle the dangers our children face when using mobile phones is a useful one. (It certainly beats forcibly straightening bananas, indulging in corruption and gaoling metric martyrs [any more lazy tabloid nonsense we can crowbar in here?].)

I fear, however, that there is a more simple answer. Want to protect your children from the dangers of the digital age? How about… not giving them a mobile phone!

According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted two months ago, 70 percent of European youngsters from ages 12 to 13 years and 23 percent of children from eight to nine own a mobile phone.

EIGHT to NINE??? What? When did this happen? Who are they calling?

"Hi Mum, could you set the video for Lazy Town? Great. What’s for tea? Alphabetti Spaghettti? Are you mad, I'm on the Atkins this week. Got to do something after all the jelly and ice cream at the weekend."

I mean, I could barely operate long trousers at the age of eight, and I'm not even sure I was up to writing 'boobless' on a calculator at nine. This is madness gone mad.

The old days

Of course, I grew up in a gentler time. My sisters may have mewled when they were pitilessly denied earings before the tender age of 13, but my first mobile phone was a (largely unwanted) gift from my parents when I was at university. I rarely used it (no-one else had one, I had no money and I lived with 200 people), so it functioned only as a spectacularly unsuccesful pulling tool and as a 'locate-Matt' device for my parents. And I'm not convinced I need one now.

It strikes me that people in general, and children in particular, have always behaved badly towards one another. The digital age changes only the fact that bullying can now be more hurtful, inventive and long-standing - and it can be done from a distance by physical weaklings.

There are many ways to protect your eight-year-old children when they are online (there's a feature in the September issue of PC Advisor, he shamelessly plugged), but you can't always be there when they are using their phone. So don't let them have one.

They'll complain, of course, but this will be excellent practice for when they are teenagers.

This column will appear in the October issue of PC Advisor, available from 17 August in all good newsagents.

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