1 in 4 Irish children receives €1,000 for their First Holy Communion: Here's how they spend it
With Communion season drawing to a close, many children are preparing to splurge on mobile devices. Kathy Donaghy finds out how to take a realistic approach to cybersafety without spoiling the fun
With First Holy Communion season drawing to a close, Cybersafe Ireland is urging parents to stop and think carefully before they allow their child to rush out and spend their money on their first iPad or other device.
About one in four children receives more than €1,000 on their Communion day, while the average child pockets almost €400, according to research carried out last year by mummypages.ie.
This cash haul puts a tablet or smartphone firmly within a child's affordability grasp. This combined with peer pressure and competition in the school yard means parents are under enormous pressure to yield to demands for a device.
Cliona Curley is programme director with Cybersafe Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation working to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a safe and responsible manner. She says allowing your child to buy their first device with their Communion money is a huge step for children and parents.
"Anecdotally, we know that devices like tablets, an iPod Touch or a games console are top of the list of the things kids want to buy. When they make their Holy Communion they're likely to get more cash than they've ever received and a parent's inclination is to make a child happy," Curley explains.
While she says the technological world has enormous benefits when parents 'co-use' it with their children, her key piece of advice to parents is always to introduce technology slowly.
"It's much easier to be engaged in what your kids are doing and to be on top of it if everything doesn't arrive at once. Maybe the parent could do a deal with the child by getting them to save some money and agree to consider a device in the future," she says.
While Curley says there has been a focus on smartphones for younger children, kids are using apps like Snapchat on their iPod Touch or on their tablet.
"Sometimes the talk about smartphones is unhelpful as children are able to access the same opportunities and risks on other devices which they tend to get at a much younger age."
She adds: "When a child gets a device a parent can expect an increase in their workload. All of a sudden a parent has to get on top of these things. Having their own device gives children more independence about what they do online and it's a really big step forward.
"We'd urge parents to think about it - think about it in terms of your own parenting workload and all the additional risks for children."
Galway-based internet safety expert Jeremy Pagden believes no child in primary school should have devices that can connect them to social media and urges parents to be cautious when allowing children to buy devices with their Communion money.
"Don't ever hand over a smart device, phone or tablet in a pristine, unopened box. Get it out of the packaging, turn it on and configure it yourself with parental controls. If your child wants to play a game, why can't they do it on mum's device? Why do they have to have ownership of this device themselves?" he asks.
Louise McDonnell, mum to twins Jack and Ruth (10) who made their First Holy Communion last year, said as they come from a large extended family, her children did quite well when it came to monetary gifts.
"I wanted them to acknowledge everyone who gave them something so I got them to pick out a thank-you card, write it up and send them. Then they came to the credit union with me and we set up their accounts with their money," says Louise, who lives in Enniscrone, Co Sligo.
Her daughter went to Penneys and spent some of her money on a few things, while her son - who loves technology - got a game for his Xbox, although she says he is trying his best to persuade her to get him a Nintendo device.
While Louise works as an author, social media trainer and keynote speaker and is fluent in negotiating the world of social networking, it's one she's not keen for her children to enter yet.
"It's not being afraid to say no. They don't understand how it works. I don't want them to have to deal with messages and interpret messages - they don't need that. When they come home from school they need a break," says Louise.
Louise notes that she also used the fact that they had come into money to get them to start saving by opening their credit union accounts.
"They know down to the last cent what they have in the credit union. It's about teaching them the value of money and to let them know it doesn't come from nothing," she says.
Mum-of-three Hillary Connor, who lives near Gorey in Co Wexford, says her three girls Brianna (13), Sophia (10) and Gabriella (8) - who just made her First Holy Communion - bought Nintendo DS devices with some of their money.
Hillary says the device was top of the list for all her girls, although she says she is very strict about how much time they spend on it.
The girls bought reconditioned DS devices and, in the case of Gabriella, spent a little Communion money in Penneys, but the rest of their cash went into the bank.
"It's getting the balance between giving them enough that they're happy but also setting boundaries. With technology we didn't have this growing up but they couldn't imagine life without it. I think as parents we have to persevere with that," says Hillary, a hypnotherapist and author.
Frank Conway, founder of MoneyWhizz which teaches financial literacy to children, says from the age of seven children develop money skills that last a lifetime, so the Communion money comes at a key time in their lives where parents can instil a sense of value and appreciation.
Conway notes that Communion money can present parents with the perfect opportunity to introduce ideas around saving, spending and budgeting as well as keeping financial records.
He says the 'needs versus wants' debate impacts children and adults alike. "Are we buying an item because we really need it or is it just that we want it? Do kids feel pressure to look cool or are they going to be informed enough to keep their cash cool and dry and unspent?" he asks.
"Remember, a celebrity endorsement for a particular piece of clothing does not mean it is better but it probably certainly means it will cost more.
"Parents need to play a role in getting kids to recognise this and understand how it is all a big game of getting them to part with their cash."
For more, see cybersafeireland.org