Getting a smartphone for your child for the first time is a big decision. It can mark a huge turning point in the life of your child. It demands maturity and responsibility. It can be hard to know when the time is right, and most importantly, how to prepare for it.
With a smartphone, your child will have unfettered access to the Internet and the ability to be in contact with almost anyone on the planet. Unfortunately, with all its positives, a phone also brings risk. It can expose children to the ‘wide, wild, web’ of cyber-bullying, pornography, sexting, and open them up to online predators, peer pressures, material pressures, and body image.
It is important to make clear the purpose for giving them a smartphone and whether they can handle the responsibilities of owning one. If you are under pressure from your child, or other parents to buy her a phone, remember – this is a big deal and it is still your decision.
What are the indicators that your child might be ready (or not) for a phone?
There are many factors to consider to help you determine the readiness of your child for a smartphone. Maturity, responsibility and social decision making ability are a major part of it. Does your child struggle with adhering to rules at home and/or school? Is your child impulsive? Can she babysit a younger child for short windows of time or take public transit by himself? Is she responsible with his allowance or other money/savings? Is she organized with homework? Good at apologizing for wrong doing? How good is she at not using tech as a distraction from other activities she needs to focus on?
If your child has not yet had the opportunity to demonstrate some of these social skills, you may want to hold off on a personal device. Set progressive milestones to enable him/her work towards the responsibility and demonstrate readiness.
Mentorship is key
Mentorship is very crucial. With this powerful technology comes great responsibility for the child and the parent. No animal in the wild would dare leave her young to roam alone in the wild without sufficient mentorship. Before you allow your child to roam the cyberspace with a smartphone, it is critical for you to take them through phone etiquette and digital citizenship where they learn to use the smartphone safely. Don’t forget to activate parental controls on the smartphone and teach them to make good decisions, and to know when to get help. This sets them up for a lifetime of successful digital communication. The process of mentorship, and good smartphone behavior modeling is not a one-off conversation. It must continue even after the child receives a smartphone.
Model good boundaries for texting and social networking. Texting and social media open up a whole additional set of challenges and competencies. For kids getting phones before the minimum recommended age for many social apps, let them start experimenting with texting and group texting, under some light supervision. Once you see them successfully navigating these waters, then they may be ready to add a social app but that is a decision you want to make with care.
Develop and agree on acceptable use
Work with your child to set some boundaries and acceptable use policy to guide the usage of the smartphone. For example, letting friends know you can’t respond to calls or texts after 9 pm is helpful. Sharing these boundaries with peers reduces their connectivity anxiety. You may also wish to consider the following guiding rules:
- Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.
- Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person with parents in room.
- Search the web for information you would openly share with parents and teachers. No porn. If you have a question about anything, ask your parents or mentor.
- Turn it off or silence it while in a public place or formal gathering such as meetings, church, mosque, restaurant, cinema, or while speaking with another human being.
- Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your online reputation and by extension your life.
Giving a smartphone to a child is a big decision. Be sure your child is ready for this responsibility. Once your child has a smartphone, continue to educate them on the importance of using the smartphone safely and appropriately.