Smart Living | Digital Parenting

Digital Parenting | 14 Aug 2023

Your Child’s First Phone – what you need to know

Getting your child their first smartphone doesn’t have to be daunting with help from the NSPCC and Vodafone.

Parents celebrate many important milestones in their children’s lives. First words, first steps, and the first day of school. Getting your child their first phone is one of those momentous milestones.

It will become a permanent part of their lives, and it should be an empowering moment. But there are risks, and this can change a special moment into one of fear and uncertainty for parents and children.

We want to help make this a more positive experience for children and parents, ensuring you feel safe and secure from day one of this brand-new chapter in your child’s life.

At the NSPCC, we hear from parents about the main concerns they have for their child when getting their first smartphone. Here, we talk about what these worries are and, most importantly, what you can do if you share them.

Children’s understanding of online risk

What do parents say?

Parents tell us that they often talk to their children about the risks that may come with their first phone. They want their children to be prepared and act with caution when exploring all the new games and other apps that they now have at their fingertips. But parents often tell us that when they have these conversations, it sometimes feels like their messages aren’t getting through. Parents tell us this can be frustrating and makes them feel powerless to prevent their child experiencing harm on their new device.

Teaching your kids to question what they see online, on TV and in the papers

On Safer Internet Day, we give parents tips on how to protect kids against dodgy TikTok videos, Facebook conspiracy theories, fake news and unreliable social media influencers.

What can you do?

  • Make this a team effort – Your child getting their first smartphone should be seen as a journey that you take together. From picking the phone to navigating challenges, this should be a team effort and one that you are constantly communicating about.
  • Have age-appropriate conversations – You know your child best so you will be able to judge when they are old enough to talk about certain topics, without becoming upset or frightened. If it doesn’t feel right to talk about certain topics yet, then consider the early conversations you could have instead as building blocks. For example, talking about nude image sharing might not feel appropriate yet. Instead, you could discuss safe image sharing more broadly.
  • Avoid scare stories – When talking about risks, be honest but try not to catastrophise. Allow them to ask you questions and answer these honestly in a way that feels right for your family and the age and stage of your child. When talking to your child about the risks they may face, it is tempting to use scare stories and emphasise the dangers. But, in practice, this does not make children more likely to stay safe. Instead, talk to your child about all the different aspects of having a mobile phone from an early age.
  • Be a role model to encourage good behaviour – It is also important to be a role model with good behaviour when using your own device, such as allowing them to see the way you talk to other people when using your own phone. The better the example they see, the easier it will be for them to identify poor behaviour online.
  • Get support and use available resources – You can use Childline’s resources on Online and mobile safety to support the conversations you have with your child. These help children to explore difficult topics and they can always get in touch if they want support from the Childline team. They can also help you as a parent to consider the most appropriate language and framing to use with your child.
Digital Parenting Pro hub show on a tablet
Click on the image to go through to our Digital Parenting Pro hub

Understanding safety features and how to use them

What do parents say?

When it comes to setting up their child’s first phone, parents often tell us that one of their biggest concerns is getting their head around all the available safety features. These can be a really important tool for parents to help keep their children safe when using their new phone and it is something they want to get right. But it can be confusing, especially if you are not confident with technology.

What can you do?

Get to know where the features are

There are three levels of parental controls and safety features that families can explore:

  1. Home WiFi – Contact your internet service provider to find out the options available to you for controlling the online content viewable at home.
  2. Mobile networks – Contact your child’s mobile network provider to set up controls on the mobile networks your child’s phone can access. With Vodafone, for example, you can adjust age-restricted content settings.
  3. The phone itself and apps – Explore the parental control and safety settings on your child’s phone and apps to ensure they are turned on.

Set up the device up as a ‘child’s phone’

Ensuring your provider knows this is a ‘child’s phone’ can help limit access to features more suitable for adult customers. For example, being able to spend money or access certain content. Again, your mobile phone provider can really help here. They can tell you what settings and controls are available on your child’s phone and explain exactly how to put them in place.

Get support and use available resources

For clear advice and guidance on parental controls, visit our online safety hub. Vodafone Digital Parenting Pro can also help you identify the parental controls available to you, not only on your child’s smartphone, but also in the apps they use. Remember that this is a journey for both you and your child, so take the time to learn together and figure out the controls and features that work best for your family.

Another good source of information is other parents who have been through this journey. Talk to them about which safety features they find most effective and get them to show you how they work.

‘We need parental controls to protect our kids, but we also need to talk’

As Vodafone UK launches Digital Parenting Pro, a content controls hub for parents and carers, Nicki Lyons, Chief Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Officer, reflects on how resources like this can protect kids from unsuitable content and help families have more informed conversations around online safety.

Knowing where to go for support

What do parents say?

One of the top things that worries parents when getting their child’s first phone is where they can find help and advice to support them with this journey. As a parent, knowing where to start can feel overwhelming – from what type of phone best suits your child to knowing where you can go when something goes wrong. Parents tell that us that they want clear advice that simply tells them what they need to know.

Parents of children with additional needs understandably want specific support that is suitable for their child. These parents often tell us that they want their children to enjoy the benefits that come with owning a phone, but their unique challenges can make parents less confident allowing their child this freedom and responsibility.

What can you do?

  • Knowing where to start – This new resource from Vodafone is a great place for families to get support with their child’s first phone journey. Our online safety hub is another great place to get advice on topics like Chat apps and Social media. If something does go wrong, try not to panic because help is available. As well as our Helpline, there are a number of services designed to support you and your child, all of which you can find on the NSPCC website.
  • Knowing where to go if you have a concern – The NSPCC Helpline is here to support you with any worries you have about your child’s welfare. This could include concerns about what they have seen online. You can contact the NSPCC Helpline by calling 0808 800 5000 or emailing For help with decisions around the phone itself, your mobile phone provider is a good place to start. They will be able to speak to you about the different options and how they might work for your family.
  • Reporting harmful online content and contact – If you are concerned about something your child has seen online, you can visit our page about reporting online safety concerns or call our Helpline where you can speak to one of our Child Protection Specialists. We will be able to give you further support and guidance about what to do next.
  • Supporting children with additional needs – All of these are also relevant for parents of children with additional needs, but for further support, we would recommend speaking to the people who work closest with your child, for example their keyworker or teaching assistant to better understand how they might interact with others online. You can also use our resources aimed at supporting children  with additional needs online.
  • Knowing where your child can go for help – Childline has lots of fantastic resources designed for children that can help them with a range of online issues. Encourage your child to visit those online safety pages. If they are worried about something, they can always call Childline on 0800 1111 or email/chat with a counsellor.

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