We all know that every kid wants a smartphone and the peer pressure to have one can be intense. Not having one can be a social disaster for your child, but, for some parents, finding the balance between what they want and what you believe is best for them can be a challenge.
We have all heard horror stories of online predator attacks, sexting, and cyberbullying, and rightly so, these stories have many parents in hyper anxiety mode about allowing their child to have a smartphone.
The single best way to decrease your anxiety as a parent is to have a concrete understanding of the people, places, and things that are influencing your child. This includes the people, places and things in cyberspace.
There are 4 things every parent should consider when giving their child their first smartphone, but first, parents often ask what age is appropriate for their first phone and the answer is, there is no specific age. The decision should depend on 3 things:
- How the phone will be used or the purpose of having the phone
- Your child’s maturity level
- How involved you will be in parenting them with their smartphone
The social landscape for today’s children is very different than it was when we were kids and it requires a different approach and a different set of parenting tools.
If you have made the decision to take the step and get your child their first phone, here are the things every parent should consider:
Keep in mind that your child’s pure desire to have a smartphone makes it easy to set guidelines, parameters, and expectations.
1. CREATE A CELL PHONE CONTRACT
When you give your child their first phone it should come with a contract. Topics parents tend to include on their cell phone contracts are: how often the child can use it, when they can use it, what apps are allowed, the fact that the phone ultimately belongs to the parent, and that the child will give all usernames and passwords related to the phone, email accounts, messaging apps, and social media accounts to the parent. It is also important to include what the consequences will be for any violation of the contract.
2. SOCIAL JUDO YOUR CHILD’S FIRST PHONE
Your child’s first cell phone needs a monitoring program like Social Judo. Giving a child access to the entire universe without it is not smart parenting. With an app like Social Judo, you can decide what information you would like to be alerted to. If you are worried about marijuana use, you can set it to alert you if your child uses terms like “420” or “weed”. If you are worried that your daughter is sneaking over to her toxic boyfriend’s house, you can set Judo to alert you if she travels to that specific location. If you need to stay on top of the apps your son is using, Judo can alert you each time a new app is downloaded. Parenting in cyberspace is NOT spying, but rather a smart response to a 21st-century concern.
3. EDUCATE ABOUT ONLINE INFORMATION SHARING
Giving your child their first phone is the moment to start conversations about the risks and dangers associated with sharing personal information online. Parents need to remember that just because your child can speak like an adult and share adult like thoughts, this does not mean that they have the impulse control, judgment and decision-making skills of an adult. For example, kids need to understand that just because a photo disappears on Snapchat, it doesn’t mean that the recipient of the picture didn’t take a screenshot of it. Just because someone “friends” you online, that does not automatically make them a friend or a confidant. Your child should have a clear understanding of the types of personal information they can share and what they should not share. Setting clear expectations right out of the gate makes everything a lot easier as time moves on.
4. TRY NOT TO USE THE PHONE AS A PUNISHMENT
The consequences you set for behavior should be logical. Parents often make the mistake of imposing punishment out of anger or frustration, and the smartphone is often the first to go. Unless your child has used the phone in some way that has contributed the problem you are trying to address, avoid using it to punish. For example, if your 13-year-old daughter sent a suggestive picture of herself to her boyfriend, she is letting you know that she does not have the maturity to handle the responsibility of her smartphone. Taking it away until she does makes sense. However, if your 13-year-old son is argumentative with you over some issue, taking away his phone as a consequence is likely to incite unnecessary anger, but if he forgot to mow the lawn, telling him he has lost his phone until he gets it done, makes sense.
Giving your child their first smartphone is a rite of passage, and as with any other, you should not give it to them without teaching and monitoring them until they become proficient.
Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.