Getting a smartphone has become a 21st-century right of passage. It’s reminiscent of the classic trip to purchase your first car or even get your first job. The one big difference? Age.
Most kids get smartphones at a young age. This begs the question: what rules should parents have in place to govern their younger children’s smartphone usage?
Get a Phone at the Right Time
When asked, the majority of Americans responded that kids shouldn’t get a smartphone until middle school or later. Even so, the average age to get a smartphone continues to hover around 10 years old.
Needless to say, there’s a huge difference between a 10-year-old getting a smartphone and a 16-year-old getting their first car. Knowledge, experience, and sound judgment can all be lacking at such a young age.
That’s why the first thing you should consider as a parent is the best time to give your kid their own phone. Once given, you don’t want to have to take it away again unless absolutely necessary.
Chances are the best time to purchase their own phone is going to differ with each child. No one matures at the same rate. Fortunately, there are a few helpful indicators that can help you decide when to buy a kids phone, such as:
- Grades: Does your child take school seriously? Are they maintaining good grades?
- Work: Is your kid working a job? Do they need a phone for communication with employers or for transportation?
- Volunteering: Is your child volunteering on a regular basis? Would a phone enhance their efforts?
- Behavioral issues: Is your child responsible? Do they tend to be mischievous or dishonest? Do they have a penchant for trouble?
A phone is a powerful tool. It can keep you in touch with friends and family. It can help with school and work assignments. It can even provide a surprisingly healthy way to unwind at the end of the workday.
However, you want to make sure that your child is ready to handle the responsibility of having a phone before you ever put one into their hands.
Setting Ground Rules
At a certain point, you’re going to decide that your child is mature enough to have their own phone. When that happens, your job as a parent isn’t done. On the contrary, the last thing that you want to do is give them the latest iPhone and then walk away. You’ll still need to create a clear set of ground rules for them to follow.
Here are a few suggestions for common rules to give your kids as they adjust to life with a smartphone at their fingertips.
1. Limit Screen Time
It should be clear from the get-go how much time your child can spend on their phone each day. If left unaddressed, they can end up spending far too much time with their head bent, eyes staring, and fingers tapping. This will only exacerbate the amount of time they’re already spending in front of screens for school or entertainment purposes.
2. Restrict Internet Access
Consider if your child is ready to handle full internet access. The internet is rife with dangers. Some are obvious, like pornography or gambling. Others are more subtle, such as social media addiction and cyberbullying. Consider if your child is ready to handle the internet or if you should get a kid-friendly phone or parental filter that restricts these options.
3. Require Download Approval
Make sure you oversee the app store password for your child’s phone. You don’t have to be the one to download every app. However, you should have a rule in place that requires approval before any new content is downloaded.
4. Create Phone-Free Zones
As your child adjusts to life with a phone, they’ll need to learn to leave it behind at times. You can help with this process by setting up phone-free zones throughout your home. A couple of obvious candidates are the dinner table and in bed. Others can be added to that list depending on your particular situation.
5. Schedule Unplugging Times
Along with geographic areas that are phone free, it’s also a good idea to schedule unplugging times. Have your kid spend an hour or two before bed or after school avoiding electronics. This can help them learn a sense of control over their smartphones rather than the other way around.
6. Consider Parental Control Software
If you’re concerned that your child may ignore some of your rules, consider getting a parental control app. There are many apps available that can give you varying levels of control over your child’s phone. Some provide basic reports on activity while others allow you to retain a significant degree of control.
7. Maintain an Open Phone Policy
Privacy and respect are important things to cultivate with your child. However, your kid’s first phone is hardly the best time to leave things entirely in their hands. It’s important that you retain the ability to fully access your child’s first phone. Make sure your teen or preteen understands that you’ll have their password and will be doing random spot checks from time to time.
8. Communicate Often
Finally, remember that it’s important to check in with your child, as well. You don’t want to focus on setting up barriers that restrict their fun. You want to instruct your child about the pros and cons of having a smartphone.
Research the latest screen time and smartphone usage statistics together. Share your own experiences with your phone. Do your best to teach your child to handle their device with a healthy respect for the useful yet addictive tool that it is.
As you go about setting up rules and regulations, remember to create consequences, as well. Mild repercussions in the short-term will save them a world of future trouble if they learn to use their phones in healthy ways as a result.
Consider the maturity of your child, establish rules, and set up consequences. If you can do these three things, you can shepherd your kid into the world of smartphone ownership in the healthiest way possible.