Children are exceptionally savvy when it comes to the use of electronic devices. At the youngest of ages, they appear to know how to manoeuvre the use of electronics better than some adults. A 2016 study from research firm Influence Central found the average age for getting the first smartphone is 10.3 years old, down from 12 in 2012.
This trend is rather disturbing and I cannot be the only one watching on in horror as a child who can barely speak, grab a phone turn on their favourite youtube channel. This type of early adoption to technology can quickly turn into an unhealthy dependancy and needs to be monitored closely.
The Time Will Come
Smartphones and tablets have become the go-to devices to keep infants and toddlers busy to avoid public tantrums due to idle time. Hence, it only becomes a matter of time before your child will want his or her own smartphone. Allowing your child to have a smartphone can be a great thing for you and your child. You can instantly contact your child when you are running late for pick up, you can be contacted instantaneously if there is a problem at school, and you can use it as your own personal tracking device to keep tabs on your child's location.
"We've got entire generations of kids who are growing up now with smartphones, online apps, and technology that is second nature to them. But we've done preciously little to prepare them for life in an always online and connected world," said Scott Steinberg, author of the book Parenting High-Tech Kids: The Ultimate Internet, Web, and Online Safety Guide.
So before allowing children to dive headfirst into the smartphone world, be sure to have a conversation with them about appropriate use and responsibility. Here are six tips for ensuring you and your children are ready for the responsibility that comes with having their own smartphone.
Set up rules and expectations
Have a conversation to inform children of the rules and expectations of cell phone use. Create a cell phone contract with clear expectations for use of the phone and, clear consequences if the contract is broken. It is extremely important that the contact is meaningful and enforceable at all times. If you treat it as just another piece of paper, children will respond to it as just an empty rule and wasted paper.
Set up time limits for phone use, and set a rule around data usage. About 30 to 60 minutes per day, and then increase it as they get a little bit older into the tweens and teens. Make all rules clear! Do not assume that children "should have known" something.
Have your children turn the phone to you at night to ensure they are getting proper sleep and not getting messaged by friends throughout the night.
Warn about inappropriate texts and pictures
You may not be prepared to have a conversation about sexual messages and pictures with your children, however, if they are old enough to have a smartphone then you are entrusting them enough to have a smart conversation about sexually inappropriate behaviours.
Sexting is real, it happens every day in the school environment. Make sure your child knows what to do if they get a sexually inappropriate text or picture. Inform your children of the very real legal implications of sending nude pictures of themselves to someone, or forwarding a sexually suggestive picture that they may have received from a classmate.
Teach your child about cyberbullying and how NOT to be a cyberbully
A cell phone means 24/7 access to everyone. With 24/7 electronic access, a bully has become hard to escape. Inform children about steps to take if they are bullied. Know your child passwords for their phone, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and any other social media app they are using.
Know who is sending your children direct messages and the type of messages they are sending to others. Social media platforms, games, and group chats make it easy for kids to be bullied. Talk to them about the signs of cyberbullying, and have open conversations with them about what you and the school will do about bullying when it is reported.
Use it as an opportunity to teach responsibility
When children have a smartphone, they now have a major responsibility. Smartphones are an expensive item. If your child earns an allowance have them contribute a small portion to the cost of their cell phone plan.
Always remember it is YOUR phone
If you buy a phone for your child, then you are allowing your child to use your phone. No matter what your child tells you, the phone is your property, you own it.
You do have a right to take it back, you have a right to turn off the data, and even turn off the service if you feel your child cannot be responsible for your phone. Children are smart and have amazing skills with using electronic devices, and this can be dangerous for them. Don't let your child outsmart you.
When you give your child a cell phone make sure you know what apps they download and how to use them. Be aware of where they save pictures, texts, emails, and messages so when you conduct daily searches of the phone you know exactly what you are looking for. Always know passwords to unlock the phone. Be aware of the phones parental controls and safety measures.
Smartphones are your child's lifeline to the world, as a parent you need to know what is going on in their world to protect them from themselves and everyone else.
Teach and model putting the phone down
Have a set time each day to for the family to unplug from electronic devices. Unplugging is an important habit that we all need to practice daily. Have a set family time that is phone free time. Create a phone box to put everyone's phone in, then for at least 30 min to 1 hour each night trying to make your home a cell phone free zone.
The use of electronic devices can quickly turn into an addictive behaviour for some, allow children the ability to unplug from the electronic world so they can feel re-energized and refreshed the next day.
Remember to gauge the situation
You know your child best. You are aware of child's maturity level, their friends, and their daily habits. When handing them a device that requires a great level of responsibility be sure to trust your instinct. A smartphone permits quick, instant access to everything in the real world. As a parent do your best to monitor, protect, and prepare your children so they can use their smartphone in a manner that is both safe and responsible.