Kids and cell phones: What should a parent do? This question eventually presents itself to every parent in America. Chances are your middle-schooler or teenager already has a phone — Pew Research Center reports 95% of teens do — and if you have a young child, you may be feeling the pressure to provide one. But when is the “right” time? No two families are exactly alike, and there is no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone. Each family must decide when to give their child a phone based on what will work best for them. If you haven’t yet provided a phone for your child, asking yourself some questions may help you determine what time is the right time.
- Does my child understand it’s a privilege to have a cell phone and that there is a cost?
- Will they respect and follow family phone rules?
- Will they take care of it?
- Can they demonstrate good phone etiquette?
- Can they self-regulate when there is homework or chores to do?
- Will they be open with you about what is on the phone?
If you can answer yes to most of these questions, your child may be ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. When it’s time, you can choose a phone with features like internet access, text or email, GPS location services, music, video, or other apps. Or, you can choose a phone that doesn’t offer all those features. Through your phone provider, you also choose how much data, text messaging, and voice minutes are available to your child. And none of those choices are set in stone, meaning you can choose to reduce minutes and data allowances should you feel you need to.
Should you opt for a smartphone, it’s important for you as a parent to:
- Model good phone etiquette and the importance of downtime.
- Activate smartphone parental controls.
- Establish a set of family rules for cell phone use.
If possible, establish family rules before you give the phone. If your child already has a phone, establishing rules may be more difficult, but it’s not impossible. The following may help you get started:
Rules Are Necessary. Help your child understand why rules are necessary by emphasizing safety and the responsibility that comes with having a phone. Decide on consequences if rules are broken and make sure expectations are understood.
Help your child understand why rules are necessary by emphasizing safety and the responsibility that comes with having a phone. Decide on consequences if rules are broken and make sure expectations are understood.
Set Time Limits. Your child’s age can help you determine how much time you want them to spend on their phone. Setting time limits serves two purposes: it helps ensure that real human interaction will not be sacrificed for cell phone use, and it respects the family budget.
No Phone Zones. No phone zones like dinner time and family time will help reinforce the importance of real human contact. Research has shown that phones interfere with sleep so it’s wise to make your child’s bedroom a no phone zone at bedtime. For phone use at school, follow the cell phone policy your school has enacted. Many schools have a cell phone policy of “off and out of sight.”
Safety. Make sure your child agrees to not answering calls or responding to texts from unknown numbers as this puts them at risk. In addition, your child should inform you immediately if they are harassed or bullied in any way via the phone.
What Not to Share. Your child should only give their phone number to real friends or family members. Review their contacts regularly and make sure you know who is in your child’s phone. If they are in their phone, you—and your child—should know who they are. Also, location should only be shared with those you approve. You want to know where your child is, but make sure no one else can track them unless you approve it.
Pictures or videos should be shared with great discretion (and never without the permission of those in the picture or video). Kids need to know that every picture taken with a smartphone logs a geographical location. Photos that are deleted are never really gone, and once a photo is sent out into the digital world, others can copy it, forward it, and print it, potentially making life miserable for the sender.
Parental Controls. Establishing early that you will monitor, filter, and block both usage and content will help you effectively manage the influence the phone has on your child and ultimately help keep them safe. Parental controls are designed to do this. Some phones have built in controls like GPS, web browsing filtering features, and parental monitoring of all calls, texts, and contacts. KidsMode on Android phones allows parents to limit content and usage and it is PIN protected so it cannot be easily disabled. For iPhones, you can disable apps through the Screen Time setting on your child’s phone using your own passcode. You can also limit access to certain types of content (like mature or adult), disable online games and in-app purchases, and set time limits. You can do all of this on the device itself.
For another layer of control, you can contact your phone provider to take advantage of their parental control features. These options vary, but you can set limits on usage, block data, restrict or prohibit web access, restrict calls, filter adult content, and set alerts so you are notified as to who is contacting your child via their cell phone. Third party apps for smartphones also empower parents to do many of these same things.
If navigating the sea of cellular phones feels overwhelming, take heart. If you get informed, make a plan, and keep communication lines open, you’ll do just fine.
Growing Wireless. Kids wireless use facts. Retrieved from http://www.growingwireless.com/get-the-facts/quick-facts.
Mulberry, Christine. (2018, May 15). Cell phone parental control options. Retrieved from https://wehavekids.com/parenting/Cell-Phone-Parental-Control.
Schlosser, Kurt. (2018, June 1). New research finds 95% of teens have access to a smartphone; 45% online ‘almost constantly.’ Retrieved from https://www.geekwire.com/2018/new-research-finds-95-teens-access-smartphone-45-online-almost-constantly/.
Trapp, Kristin. (2018, April 17). 6 cell phone rules for kids and teenagers. Retrieved from https://wehavekids.com/parenting/5-Cell-Phone-Rules-You-Must-Put-in-Place-When-Your-Kids-are-Young.