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3 Oct 2014
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Phoney War

Helen Matthews is in two minds about letting her 10 year old daughter, Bronwen, have a mobile phone for Christmas.

Hang up, Bronwen!

My daughter Bronwen is sitting up in bed flicking through the latest mobile phone catalogue. In the last few weeks, it's become her favourite bedtime reading. She's only ten years old but it seems to me that she has been a teenager for at least three years.

"Look at this one, mum" she exclaims excitedly, extolling the virtues of her selected models. Or what do you think about that dinky one - isn't it cute? And that cover! Which colour do you like?"

"But Bronwen," I protest, "as I have already explained to you," (on umpteen occasions, sometimes several times a day), "You cannot have a mobile phone until you start secondary school next September." (And maybe not even then I mutter under my breath). "Besides, you seem to have taken out unlimited access and borrowing rights over my mobile at weekends."

She stares at me disdainfully. "Your mobile! As if. No way would I let anyone think that shabby mobile belongs to me!" And yet, at weekends she is not too proud to take my mobile into custody. She and her mates are all busily texting each other, arranging to meet up in the car park in our village. They need to know if it's with or without skateboards, who's wearing what, and other important details.

She tries another tack. "But at least you'll always know where I am and can ring to see if I've got where I'm going safely mum."

This is going for the jugular. After the tragic events of the summer, I, in common with all parents of ten year old girls, want to rein in my daughter back. Keep her safe in the bosom of her family, clasped to my side, permanently protected.

But I know that this is not the answer. Over the last twelve months and as we judged she was ready for it, we have slowly been able to grant her more freedom to go out and about with friends of her own age. Always, we insisted on knowing where she was.

But since the summer we have reviewed this freedom. It seems the world is no longer a safe place for ten year-old girls, even if they stick together. Now it's not just stranger danger they need to be alert to but, chillingly, they can be at risk from people they know and trust - often even more so.

To insist that she goes back to being ferried everywhere by car, corralled and protected, taught that it's a jungle out there, would have done her no favours. When she starts secondary school next September, she will need to leave the house early in the morning on her own, walk some distance to a bus top and wait for a school bus to transport her more than six miles to school. How would she be prepared for that if, in her final junior year, she never left the house without being accompanied by an adult?

Since the summer I have issued my daughter with yet another new instruction. "You can go to the village to meet your mates, but you musn't go into anyone's house without letting me know." "But how can I let you know if I don't have a mobile phone?" she asks innocently.

Checkmate. The mobile phone has become the electronic tagging device of the 21st century. A cross between a virtual baby monitor and a panic button. And so, I sit up in bed leafing through the latest mobile phone brochure....they guarantee they can deliver right up until Christmas Eve.

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