In our increasingly digital world, the question of buying your child a phone is just as important as when (or whether) to buy your child a car. Cellphones can be lifesavers for busy families who are trying to coordinate work and school schedules and extra-curricular activities. Still, stories about cyberbullying and sexting make many parents afraid to leap. Here are four things to consider before you give your child a phone.
Gauge Your Child’s Maturity
Kids are all individuals, and age isn’t as important as maturity. Maybe your thirteen -year- old can barely remember to turn in their homework and fights you every time you ask them to turn off their video game. But your ten-year-old is on top of school and prefers reading to screentime. The ten-year-old is probably the better candidate for a phone.
If you are considering giving your child a phone, keep in mind how they manage other areas of their life. If they struggle to limit their screen time on video games or other devices, they might also have trouble using their phones responsibly. Kids who have learned to use other types of technology in a healthy way will be less likely to misuse a phone.
Set Clear Guidelines
Buying your child a phone is a lot like buying them a car. You don’t just hand over a car without making sure your teen knows how to use it responsibly. The same should go for smartphones.
Talk to your teen about “Digital Civics.” This includes basic online etiquette, the permanency of online posts, and issues like cyberbullying, sexting, and other risky digital behavior. Some community education services are offering classes in digital civics that you and your child can take.
Many parents find it useful to draw up a contract with their child that lays out how the phone will be used and what the consequences of misusing it will be. This contract should include things like how much data your child can use per month and when they can use their phone and when it should be off or put away (like at dinner time and bedtime.) You can find examples of these contracts online and then personalize one to fit your family.
Keep Communication Lines Open
If your child’s friend posts suicidal thoughts on social media or someone tries to send your child a sext, you want to know about it. Unfortunately, many teens don’t tell their parents about these things because they think their phones will be taken away. Experts advise talking with your child about what to do when they see concerning things online and letting them know that they can talk to you without fear of being punished. There are also several types of parenting apps available to help keep you in the know about your child’s online activity.
If you have a younger child who needs a phone for communication purposes but isn’t ready to be exposed to the wide world of the internet, consider getting them a flip phone or a phone made especially for children.
Of course, you should explain to your child how to take care of their phone, but even the most well-meaning might drop it. Insurance can save you a lot of expense and hassle. You should also activate tracking software like “find my iPhone” in case your child comes home without their phone and can’t remember whether they left it at school or at dance class.