How do you know when to get your child a phone? When is that magical age? Over 84% of the world’s population owns a smartphone according to Bank My Cell. But even more surprising is that in the United states, over HALF of children under 11 have a smartphone reports this story by NPR (53% to be exact).
Of course your child wants a phone! But parents struggle with when is the right time to put that device in their hands. It is a power device, one that can connect them to the world, but at the same time as parents, we are scared.
- Will they become addicted?
- What about stranger danger?
- Are they going to get bullied online?
- How can I, as a parent, protect them when I don’t even know what I am doing?
Below is a set of questions to help you think about whether or not your child is ready for such responsibility.
Questions to Ask Before Giving your Child a Phone
- Why does your child want a phone? – This is the first and most important question. You need to understand the why. Does your child only want it because their friends have one? Do they need to call and text you as a parent? First determine what the need is before giving them the phone. This allows you to understand what they all need access to on the phone and you can then provide them a phone with limitations until they are ready.
- Have they had experience with being “online”? If your child has not had any experience with being online, you will want to provide opportunities that you might monitor to give them the experience, and to also help them navigate tricky situations. You want to teach them to be a good digital citizen, so modeling this online and working along side them while they learn is a great first step to helping them become independent.
- Do they know how to protect private information? – Children need to be specifically told not to share private information online. This includes their name, address or any identifying information about where they live, phone number, age, or school they attend. They should also never share any personal information with people online that they have not met in real life.
- Do they know how to balance life online and offline? – Have your children had experience with balancing life? Do they still play outside, or hang out in person with friends? Do they know when to turn the device off and have conversations with people with eye contact? Practice these skills with your child.
- Do they have the ability to think critically about all the information they might be exposed to? – The internet is open to anything and everything. Do they know what to do when they stumble across something that might be inappropriate or dangerous? You need to have open and honest conversations with your children and make them feel safe to come to you with whatever they may find. Do they also know how to read information and understand when the information may be unreliable? For instance, if they read an article without an author or date, from an unknown site, can they understand that the information might not be factual?
- Can they handle relationships? Groups of kids can be filled with drama. Now imagine that drama being around you 24/7. Do they know how to handle this in a healthy way? Talk with them on what to do if they see “mean” things online. HOw should they handle these situations? Also in this day, with texting and instant messaging, kids are used to immediate feedback. Are they prepared for that and can they also practice patience when it doesn’t happen? Will they be on apps such as snap chat and instagram where they will be exposed to “likes” etc. This can play into your child’s self confidence.
- Does your child know how to be a producer and not just a consumer? – Technology can be an amazing tool, and should not be restricted out of fear. Teach your child not only to consume the information, but also to be a creator. Do they want to create their own youtube movies? Can they create digital artwork? Will they compose or edit audio tracks. The possibilities are endless, so open that door for your kids.
I got my child a phone, now what?
- Set expectations – Our first instinct is to set rules, but this is all about what you can not do. Instead, set expectations so children have the opportunity to raise up to the expectation. Expectations could include responsibility, respect, being kind, honesty, having balance, and production vs consumption.
- Help your child set boundaries – Now that your child knows your expectations, help them to set their own boundaries to help them reach those expectations. Creating these with your child allows them to have ownership over them. For instance, if your expectation is to have balance, ask them what might need to be in place to help with this? Maybe the phone needs to be plugged in downstairs at night. Or they need to have their phone on do not disturb during dinner or homework time.
- Monitor – The more “rules” you have, the more you need to monitor and it will continue to be a power struggle. With setting expectations and boundaries, it is less about right and wrong and instead about learning what works best for your and your child. As a parent though, you always have the right to monitor what they are doing and you should occasionally check their history or text messaging.
- Engage with your child – Talk with them about what they are seeing or experiencing. Have open non judgmental conversations. Lead by example. Do you have balance? Can you make it through dinner without checking your phone? Talk through situations you may be running into and have open honest conversations with your child. For example, one that I recently talked with my teen was that I have been watching too many tik tock videos and soon a hour or two will go by and I have done nothing, or I stay up late and lose sleep. I now have to set new boundaries for myself. By telling this to my teen it shows them that you continually have to monitor and adjust even as an adult.
It may feel scary to give your child the freedom of having their own phone, but it is the same with any new freedom such as driving, or sending them on a date. The best thing you can do is teach your child how to make good decisions, and to build a relationship where they can come and talk to you without judgment or punishment, but instead guidance and support.