Moblie phones and teens often get a bad press. Mobiles feature heavily in Dr Linda Papadopoulous' recent report on the sexualisation of young people, with the finger pointed at mobile media as one way in which young people get "easy access to all kinds of online content".
As part of the team that regulates phone-paid services – everything from TV voting and competition shows to mobile ringtones and games – we're well aware of the potential risks for kids and teenagers. Young adults are less concerned about the security of entering personal details online. Despite age verification requirements, they could get access to adult material. Companies could prey on their vulnerabilities – loneliness, say, or insecurity. Worse, they could run up bills of hundreds of pounds on a contract phone before their parents find out and are left to foot the bill.
Some suggest we shouldn't give kids a mobile in the first place. Or, why not relieve kids of their mobiles for part of the day at least. Barn doors and bolting horses spring to mind: 95 per cent of young people have a mobile; and 42 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds say they'd miss it more than anything else. The thing is, kids love these services. According to Ofcom's research, young adults are far more interested in, and confident with, using a wide variety of mobile phone functions. Thirty-seven per cent of 11 to 17-year-olds have used music or video content on their phones in the last six months. Almost a third of parents say their child spends at least half their pocket money on their mobile phone.
And kids aren't stupid. This generation of digital natives are at home with the latest technologies in a way we'll probably never be. They should just be given the information to make smart choices. That's the point. As a regulator we have teeth – we can fine companies up to £250,000. But regulation isn't just about biting once the harm's been done. It's about working with people – young or old – so that they can protect themselves against the few companies that are setting out to rip them off. Young people are innately tech-savvy – let's give them the tools and information they need to safely navigate this brave new world.
Simon Bates is Director of Standards and Communications at Phonepay; PhonepayPlus's schools programme, PhoneBrain, launches today; www.phonebrain.org.uk