When should kids get a mobile phone or start walking to school on their own? Do parents need to make lunch every day, volunteer at school or pick their own children up? They’re the prickly topics that everyone has an opinion on, and we’ve spoken to parents and academics to see what they think.
Owning a mobile phone
Summer Cunio-Scarborough, 11, has just gotten her own mobile phone as she gets ready to start year 7.
Her mum Stephanie Cunio said she would have preferred to wait another two years before Summer had her own phone but that she’s already one of the last in her class to get one.
“I think she can at least make better decisions now but there are so many issues around mobile phones, too much screen time, lack of boundaries and safety,” Ms Cunio said.
“I’ve seen kids in years 5 and 6 walking across the road looking at their phones instead of watching for traffic.”
Summer, 11, said she wanted a phone in primary school but then realised she didn’t actually need it.
“At school I find a lot of my friends are addicted to their phones,” she said.
“I think I need it now because I’m going to Newtown School of the Performing Arts and I do need to travel quite a bit, so if I urgently need to tell Mum something, I can.”
More than half the parents surveyed recently said children should get a mobile phone once they start high school but like Ms Cunio, another 20 per cent were in favour of waiting a few more years until their children were mid-way through school.
About 8 per cent said the right time was whenever the child could pay for phone-related costs themselves and only 2 per cent thought owning a mobile phone at the start of primary school was a good idea, the survey of 333 families conducted by Stable Research found.
Professor of education and equity at the University of Sydney Debra Hayes said “there’s not one answer” to the question of phones.
“Parents have to assess why it is that they want their child to have a mobile phone,” Professor Hayes said.
“I don’t think there are educational reasons why a child would need to take a phone to school.”
Walking to school
Opinion was fairly evenly divided on the issue, with 20 per cent of parents saying they would let their children start walking to school alone from the age of nine.
About 29 per cent said children should be aged 11 to 12, while 27 per cent said they should be 13 and 16 per cent said they should be over 14.
Another 6 per cent of parents said they would let their children start walking alone from the age of seven.
“There are no specific laws on this, any more than there are laws about running with scissors or playing with matches,” professor of law at the University of Sydney Patrick Parkinson said.
“It is up to parents to make these calls and to supervise their children.”
However, chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia Harold Scruby said a standard needs to be set for when children can travel alone.
“There is irrefutable evidence to show that children do not have the physical or cognitive skills to cross roads on their own until they are 12,” Mr Scruby said.
About 40 per cent of parents said ordering lunch at school should be reserved for special occasions, while 29 per cent said they would let their children use the canteen once a week.
Only 3 per cent said they would let their children order from the canteen twice a week, but 21 per cent said they would let their children use the canteen whenever they don’t have time to pack lunch.
Ms Cunio said her son gets lunch from the canteen three times a week.
“As a working parent, it’s economically a better choice, and the canteen has healthy choices and its own veggie garden,” she said.
Professor Hayes said that the canteen is an important resource for many families.
“Most canteens these days are providing simple, healthy and economic meals and if they’re not, they should be,” she said.
“How often they need to use it is very much dependent on family circumstances. Some children will need to use it everyday.”
Volunteering at school
Parents were almost evenly split on the subject of volunteering, with 45 per cent saying parents must be involved and 40 per cent saying volunteering isn’t necessary.
Ms Cunio, who works but still spends some time volunteering at her daughter’s school, said it’s a “vexed issue” that sometimes divides parents who have the time to volunteer and those who don’t.
“Parents who are available know what’s going on and have more influence while those who don’t have time are out of the loop,” Ms Cunio said.
“It’s also really gendered. The public school system relies on the free labour of parents to get things done like preparing stalls or wrapping books for the library but women do a lot more of that unpaid labour.
“My daughter has seen one man in the school canteen over her years at primary school.”
Professor Hayes said that volunteering can be beneficial for parents who have the time to do it.
“If parents are available and the school provides opportunities for them to be involved, it provides additional resources to the school and gives parents a bit of an insight into the school,” she said.
Who can do the pick-up other than mum and dad, and where should children be dropped off and collected?
About 80 per cent of parents said grandparents and other family members can also collect children from school while 17 per cent said carers or babysitters are on the list.
About 6 per cent of parents said they would let anyone who volunteers do the school pick-up, while 5 per cent veered in the other direction, saying they always pick up their children themselves.
About 80 per cent of people also said they go into the school or use kiss and ride areas when dropping off children, while about 10 per cent said they drop children off or pick them up near the school.
Original article: smh.com.au