One in three Aussie kids have a mobile phone


Image by FunkyFocus from Pixabay

Is there anything more likely to bring on a panic attack than misplacing your mobile phones? It’s around the house somewhere, isn’t it. You tried calling the number but alas, the battery is flat.

Those of you who cannot bear to be parted with your mobile phone might not know that 33% of Australian children between six and 13 own one. Another 14% of Aussie kids have access to a mobile – for example,  if they are going out alone, Mum might lend them hers. These numbers were collated in 2020 by the Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA).

I texted a mother of three to see what’s allowed in her house. We’ll call her Outraged Mother of Three (OMOT). She replied (on one of her 4.4 devices), that all of her kids (Grades 3-8) have phones.

“The youngest has a phone but it is not hooked up to a Sim or Wi-Fi. It was just the spare and now it’s lost.

Due to excess use of said phones our children now no longer bring the phones to (our weekend retreat). They also have limitations on when they can use their phones.”

If you didn’t know, most Queensland schools do not allow children to use their mobiles during school hours.

OMOT says the main reason her children have phones is purely to be able to contact her, particularly when school is out.

ACMA’s research shows that children primarily use smart phones for playing games, using apps, watching videos, texting and keeping in touch with family/friends.

OMOT said one outcome of her kids having their own phones is they no longer watch TV, preferring YouTube videos.

“They also find it as a really good way to have group chats. Both of my older kids have group phone messaging with their mates from school.

The impetus for revisiting mobile use in Australia (apart from changing last week’s distressing subject), was a blog I wrote seven years ago. In that column (May 2014), I recounted losing my mobile while on holiday in New Zealand. It was a new phone on a two-year contract, so losing it was a bit of a disaster.

The good news was that a Kiwi out jogging found it lying in the long grass outside my nephew’s house. His enterprising wife looked up the call log and dialled my wife’s mobile (as we were filling up the hire car and looking at travel insurance options). A 20 km detour later I was reunited with my then new android phone.

In 2021, after relying on them during Covid, Australians (and their children), are increasingly bound to their devices. They use them for a wide range of business, personal and entertainment communications. They send and receive emails, send and receive texts, check the odds on the footie, do internet banking and watch videos. They might check in on Facebook and interact with ‘friends’, send PM’s (private messages) to their close friends and maybe watch a music video or two. Very occasionally, they might ring someone up and have a convo (conversation).

The technology is amazing: really, it is. Thirty years ago when you were in a community choir, the choir director handed out printed scores on rehearsal night. The director would have ordered them from a music publisher and then waited weeks until they arrived in the letterbox. Now we can find and download scores (on our phones, even), print them out, and also find (free) audio rehearsal files.

The irony is that few people use the full capabilities of a smart device. I was chatting to a doctor at a barbecue when a helicopter flew overhead.

That’ll be the rescue helicopter,” she said. She showed me an app on her phone which verified that it was indeed the rescue helicopter. The app showed where it had come from and where it was going (and when it would arrive). That’s no ordinary app, I’ll grant you, but it shows what is possible. In the days when we could travel the world, language apps were all the go. Just wave the phone at the waitress in Tokyo (who would hear a Siri-type voice intoning Shīfūdo ni arerugī ga arimasu (I’m allergic to seafood).

In 2014, when I wrote Hold the Phones, there were 11.9 million smart phones in Australia. Deloitte’s Mobile Nation report showed there were 17.9 million in circulation in 2019. It’s not just smart phones – the average internet user has 4.4 devices they use to interact with the net. The most popular devices were smart TVs, wearable devices and voice-controlled smart speakers.

See how you go with this list (5/8 for me).

  • Australians spend three hours a day using their smartphones;
  • 94% take their phones with them when leaving the house;
  • Almost 25% watch live TV on their phones at least once a week;
  • 23% stream film/TV series weekly;
  • 48% check their mobile phones at least once every 30 minutes;
  • 71% feel safer when they have their phone with them;
  • Just over 90% took at least one active step in on-linesecurity
  • 53% worry about over-reliance/addiction to their devices;

The results of a survey commissioned by ACMA showed that nearly all Australians (99%) accessed the internet in the previous six months in 2020 (up from 90% in 2019). I assume this includes the approx 1.7 million or so kids aged 6 to 13.

Nevertheless, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that 2.9 million Australians were not on-line because of affordability, location or lack of digital literacy. Who knows how those people struggled last year.

ACMA’s survey (by Roy Morgan) found that Covid lock downs contributed to a significant increase in Internet-based activities. The use of communications apps soared, with 72% of Australian adults using one (up from 63% in 2019). Facebook Messenger was the most popular app (66%), followed by Zoom (43%).

There has been exponential growth in mobile data consumption – 9MB a month in 2018, according to the ABS, but growing at 40% a year.

So yes, the person opposite you staring at a screen on the commuter train is probably catching up on Mare of Easttown. This would account for the lack of eye contact and casual conversation and the panic when she realises she has gone past her stop.

It’s all very well to learn that children are already tech-savvy, but we need to find better ways to connect older Australians to the digital world. A report by the eSafety Commissioner found that  8% of Australia’s 8 million people aged 50 and over are  digitally disengaged. This means that 640,000 older Australians (74% of them over 70),  do not use the internet at all. Moreover, 6% of this target group showed no interest at all in improving “digital literacy.

(By contrast, my 94 year old Godfather began using an Ipad long before I did. Ed)

As this research found, family and friends can play an important part in helping older Australians learn some digital tricks.

It seems like a no-brainer – get those digital-savvy kids to give Oma and Opa a few lessons – after they’ve done their homework, of course.

FOMM Back Pages:

Last week: I’m still not holding my breath.


  1. It’s often overlooked that many retirees are young enough to have had computers in their workplaces for years. Many of us have been online at home for 20 years or more.

    I’m amused by those who proudly claim they are baffled by various newfangled platforms that have just sprung up. Like Facebook (launched 2004), Twitter (2006), Instagram (2010).

    And as I helpfully say to anyone struggling with some new device, “Far stupider people than you have worked it out.” Doesn’t always go down well.

  2. Indeed, FD. Remember Windows XP?

  3. Yes. I think Windows 98 was our first. I had a mobile in ’96 but I was embarrassed to be seen at work with it because it was considered a yuppy frivolity.

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