In a recent interview, David Cameron revealed he worries about the influence of technology on his children. The Prime Minister has banned them from having a mobile phone or a tablet computer – but is he fighting a losing battle? Lucy Richardson reports

TECHNOLOGY, not toys, topped the wishlists of many children at Christmas. A little blue Gremlinlike creature was greeted with squeals of delight by my eight-yearold daughter when she pulled her last present out from under the Christmas tree.

She had originally wanted a mobile phone and pestered for a cropped top but the Furby Boom – which comes to life with the help of a ipad app – turned out to be a good compromise.

I don’t want Maisy to turn to the internet for fun, but I’m relenting. She plays on the interactive Moshi Monsters and Bin Weevils sites, watches One Direction videos on YouTube and is encouraged to use her school’s Learning Platform for extra resources.

I worry about cyber-bullying and sexual predators but I also know that she is growing up in a world where surfing can be done in bed and a tablet isn’t just a pill you swallow.

Barnardo’s project worker Tony Reeves and his colleague Mel Foley, an education co-ordinator at the children’s charity, believe the internet to be one of best inventions in decades, but urge parents to become as technologically savvy as their offspring to help keep them safe.

“We have given assemblies to more than 13,500 children in Middlesbrough on internet safety, at one of them a seven-year-old with his own Facebook page said that through it he had met a stranger,” says Ms Foley. “We offer courses for parents too, but we can’t get them in for love nor money. Children latch on to technology so quickly that their parents are left far behind but they have to take control.

“I think eight is too young, but if you want to give them a phone, take control from day one and tell them that you will set it up for them and monitor it on a regular basis,” she adds.

Mr Reeves recommends that parents look at the advice website created by Ceop (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) which includes a page specifically for them as well as to check how secure their children’s Facebook privacy settings are.

A recent study by comparison site found children were, on average, given their first mobiles soon after starting secondary school at 11 years and eight months, while some of parents said they bought their youngsters a phone when they were only five.

JAMIE OLIVER does not allow his daughter a mobile phone because of concerns about her being bullied. The TV chef revealed that Poppy, 11, was the only pupil in her class not to have a phone and would enforce the ban for as long as possible to combat any cruel remarks about her having a famous dad.

However, Paul Fraser, The Northern Echo’s chief football writer and father-of-two, says he was happy for his technologically-advanced eight-year-old son to have his own mobile phone, Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as his own YouTube channel where the young movie director uploads homemade film clips using Lego figures.

“We had a big debate in our house about giving him a phone but decided that technology is advancing so much you have to move with the times,” he explains.

“His teacher thinks what he can do is phenomenal and he teaches me. He still plays outside with his mates and he is really sporty. I think that as long as you monitor it and they are not on it all the time it is fine.”

Simon Finch, e-safety expert in the education sector at Northern Grid for learning, says parents cannot ban their children from technology and needed to be proactive.

“We can say to them, ‘When I was your age I remember learning about road safety at school, something happened and I did this,’ but we cannot say I remember feeling uncomfortable when I got a text when I was seven.

“Too many people say they will ban their children from Facebook but we need to teach them to be good digital citizens. Parents should consider using Facebook, sharing their activity with their children and lead by example, in the same way they take their children swimming.”

Mr Finch directs parents to the website, which gives expert guidance on safeguarding and digital literacy covering topics from parental controls to online privacy.

“Passwords are the key to our identity and secret. Children need to be told that real friends do not ask you to share your password,”

he says. “We need to understand our digital footprints. Every word that we put online, is there forever and that forms our online CV which could have an implication for future jobs.”

THERE is something to be said for getting a child a phone that only texts rather than sitting in a car waiting for an hour for a child to get back from a club outing, he reasons.

“There are reasons for giving your child a phone, but much more to focus on is modelling appropriate behaviour showing your child how you use one, such as for work, and how it makes your life easier,” says Mr Finch.

“You cannot ban them from having a phone or Facebook. It’s like telling your daughter she will never have a boyfriend. It’s about managing the risks to the best of your ability and understanding what the benefits are.”