Oh, the good old days! When everything kids wanted was in the Toys R Us Christmas catalog. Fast forward to today. Now all that the kids want are smart phones, apps and iTunes download gift cards. It is estimated that over 1.8 billion people own smartphones and the average person will check his or her screen 150 times a day. Naturally, this passion trickles down to our kids. You may be tempted, but wait! Before you hand over your mortgage (these aren’t cheap), there are a few things you should consider.
How soon is too soon?
The national average age for first-time smartphone owners is between 11 and 14. I wonder how this population can be responsible for a $650 piece of tech when they can’t remember to shower, use deodorant, or locate their agenda?! Technology is a privilege, not a right. It will be up to you to set the ground rules for this privilege. And you have to be willing to enforce consequences for breaches.
What Your Child Needs to Know
This is a big step, one your child has achieved based on their demonstrated responsibility. It should not be handed over to them without their feeling it was earned. People place a higher value on items they have worked for. Be sure to discuss specific times, activities, and precautions they will be expected to adhere to. Remember to address potential dangers like Cyberbullying and chat rooms, and to exercise caution with social media.
Get it in Writing
Parents and children should develop a family phone contract outlining these expectations. Everyone should read and sign it. This is important, because sometimes rules can be forgotten when our children are with their peers. Place it in a central location for quick reference. Here’s an example:
Family Phone Contract
I understand that…
- A phone is a privilege and can be taken away if it interferes with my grades, chores, sleep, or behavior.
- I will not use it at school or the dinner table without express permission.
- I will not lend it to anyone and will take good care of it. If it is broken, I understand that I will have to earn its replacement.
- I will not text, post, or Google while driving or walking.
- I will not converse with strangers or visit sites that are not approved in advance.
- I will monitor my data, text and minutes usage.
- I will not use my phone to harass or upset anyone. I will inform my parents if I am being harassed or cyberbullied.
- I will not take my phone into my room at bedtime.
- I will be responsible for whatever I post. I am aware that all posts, even if deleted, are still retrievable, and are a reflection of my character.
- I understand that any infraction will result in forfeiting my phone for a period of time to be determined by my parents.
What you can do to help keep them safe
In the digital world, parental controls are tools and software that are used to block inappropriate websites, impose screen time limits, and prevent strangers from coming into contact with your children online. There are three levels of parental control.
Network Level: At the router level—however, this will also limit your searches, and it doesn’t help when they are away.
Device Level: Parental controls can be applied directly to your child’s device. Contact your carrier for further assistance with this.
Application Level: Parents can access each application on their child’s phone and set parental controls there. For example, go directly to Google or YouTube applications on their phone to set up the limitations.
Additionally, special phones can be purchased that are designed to be child-safe. Google best-cell-phones-kids and look for digital trends to find kid-friendly phones currently on the market.
Smartphones provide information and entertainment, they are not an adequate substitute for human interaction in your child’s growth and development. Parents must be available to help interpret this information for them to make sense of their world, and their roles within it. So should you get your teen a smartphone? Only you can decide if you and your child are ready for this responsibility—choose wisely!