Children & Mobile Phones: 2022 Research Reveals The Pressure & Price on Parents 

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Swycha’s latest study reveals the increasing strain on parents to please children with the phones they ask for. 

Giving phones to children can be a controversial topic. Some parents and experts say that phones are bad for children. Why? Unhealthy screen time, social media addiction, and online bullying are just a few of the growing concerns over children owning smartphones.

But when suggesting to not give children phones, parents will ask: “Well how will I know my children are safe?” and “Will they be missing out on a social life with friends online?”.

Our new research shows that in fact, today, the majority of children aged 10 now own a smartphone. Not only this, but our survey shows that even at an early age, children are asking parents for specific models of phones to keep up with trends, and this is having a strain on parents’ finances at the moment given all the current rising living costs.

Our new study interviewed 2000 UK parents in March 2022, with children aged 4 – 22, about their children and their mobile phones. Based on 22 quantitative and qualitative questions, the survey provides a snapshot of how many children own phones, what phones they have, how much parents pay for them, and the pressure parents face to please their children with the phones they want despite rising household bills.

The key findings are below:

  • Children ask for phones at early ages and parents oblige: Children are now on average age 10 when they own their first mobile phone in the UK (typically just before beginning secondary education). 22% of parents gift their child their first phone at age 10; 16% before their child has even turned 10. 17% at age 11. 46% of children ask their parents for their own new phone at age 11, usually as present. 
  • Children typically get brand new phones, not old devices: 71% of all parents surveyed said they bought a brand-new phone for their child in the last two years. 41% of all parents bought a new phone for their child’s last Birthday or Christmas (children want them) in the last two years. Only 15% of parents today give their child a second-hand phone from a family member or friend. 24% have upgraded their child’s phone 3+ times. Only 8% of parents have never bought a new phone for their child. Most children were identified to have a Samsung S20 or iPhone 11.
  • Parents feel pressure to please children, who want a new phones as gifts: 46% of children ask their parents to buy a particular model of phone (i.e., iPhone 13) to fit in with their friends. Half of parents buy the phones their children want because they say the cost outweighs the emotion of disappointing them. 43% feel the need to buy the new phone their children want for a particular birthday or Christmas despite knowing “they can’t really afford them”.
  • Parents spend a lot, and it takes a toll: Only 14% of children in the UK now have a pay-as-you-go sim. A third of parents pay over £50 a month for their children’s mobile phone contracts. 15% pay £30 - £49.99 a month. Although some parents have multiple children, 15% pay £100+ a month on their children’s combined contracts. 1 in 3 say paying their child’s phone contract has become difficult due to rising living costs. 
  • Children phones are expensive purchases: 39% of parents paid over £200 upfront for their child’s phone in the last two years. 14% paid over £400 upfront. With a limited number of gifting second-hand devices, most parents (37%) buy brand-new handsets for their children from network providers such as Vodafone or EE. 
  • Expenditure on kids’ phones spans a long time: 54% of parents continue to pay their child’s phone contract until they are 21. 8% stop paying their child’s contract at 16. 34% at 18; 5% continue to pay even when their child is over 21.

So, how do parents feel about all this? Well, it’s a real pain to afford at the moment, given all the other thing parents have to pay for. Affording the pricey phones that kids ask for today (mostly as Birthday or Christmas gifts) is becoming a real strain. In the UK - energy bills, food, and fuel prices have all shot up, as families face a cost of living crisis.  

Here is how parents feel when it comes to their children and the phones they want

“As a parent you try to give children what they want - if you can - and then go without. I sacrifice things as a parent. But I’m not sure about a new phone upgrade when it comes round this time – can’t really find the money.”

“I am having to tell my kids that they will have to do without the latest phone they ask for – I can’t afford them right now. I know new models come out and that children want them when it’s time to upgrade, but I can't afford them every time.”

“Because of costs skyrocketing, we have cut back on everything at the moment. We have switched food brands to cheaper store brand alternatives. We are rationing the heating also. When it comes to phones, it’s not a necessity.” 

“We can’t have a holiday abroad this year due to the general situation. We will get second-hand phones for the kids, as new ones are too expensive (in case they lose or break them).” 

“The kid’s phones are an absolute luxury compared to the rest of the family. We have cut as much as possible - no TV contracts and buying own brand.”

“I believe that when I explain to my child the reason why they may have to forgo a new phone in the future, they will understand.”

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