Mobile phone culture puts kids at risk
Children aged as young as six are competing to have the best mobile phone in the playground, a new study has found.
And the trend of phone companies marketing directly to children risks damaging their development and leaving them in debt.
The Australian Institute research paper reveals phone makers are increasingly targeting "tweens", pre-pubescent children aged between six and 13, because the adult market has become saturated.
According to Roy Morgan Research data, almost one-quarter of Australian tweens own a mobile phone, peaking at almost two-thirds of girls aged 12 to 13.
Parents are told the phones are a security device for their children, but most children consider them a status symbol.
Study authors Christian Downie and Kate Glazebrook said children were trying to keep up with their peers by owning the best phone.
More than half of tweens believe the brand of their phone is important and 62 per cent believe the phone's looks are important, they said.
Similarly, 61 per cent of child mobile phone owners want the latest technology and features and 54 per cent plan to upgrade their phone.
"Numerous studies have demonstrated that tweens are fundamentally concerned with looking cool," the authors said.
An estimated two-thirds of major retailers worldwide now actively target kids, the study found, and phone manufacturers are drawing in tweens with simple child-friendly phones stamped with children's brands such as Mattel, Disney and Nickelodeon.
Marketers know that tweens have a lifetime of spending ahead of them and are determined to instil early brand loyalty, the study said.
Tweens also have a rising influence over household spending, accounting for an estimated $4 billion worth of direct and indirect consumer decisions in Australia.
But Mr Downie said the consumption may be harming children.
"This is another example of the pressures being put on young children to consume and to compete with their peers for expensive consumer goods from a young age," Mr Downie said.
"It is an ethos that is not only harmful to childhood development but, in the case of mobile phones, very costly."
Although parents pick up the tab for most mobile phone use, one-third of children pay the bills themselves.
As well as call costs, children are encouraged to upgrade their phone and buy ring tones, games and music at a cost of up to $5 per download.
"Almost one in five children say they spend too much on their mobile phones and one in five parents think the same," the authors said.
"The evidence indicates that some children get into financial difficulties from mobile phone use."