Is Your Child Ready for a Smartphone?

As a parent, how do you determine when it’s the right time is to purchase your child’s first smartphone?

It can be difficult to determine the right time to do so, especially for families with teens. We often wish it could be as simple as putting an age benchmark on the appropriate time to give a child a smartphone.

However, what it really comes down to is your child’s maturity as an individual; is he or she trust-worthy, safe online, and prepared for the responsibility that comes with a mobile device?

Is your child ready for a smartphone? Readiness can vary by age and maturity. Here's what to consider before buying their first cell phone.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider and cover the following topics before making the final decision to make the purchase.

What to consider before making the smartphone decision

Role-modeling tech-savvy behavior

Remember, as well as being a loving parent, you’re also a role model. Every choice you make and action you take teaches your child what’s considered appropriate and what is not. Unfortunately, our 24/7 connectivity can take us away from the moment, and introduce our children to bad tech habits.

It is important to practice what you preach, especially when your child is expecting the same decorum and respect they’re trying to show you. Whether you’re tweeting your friend about your favorite TV show or checking your phone at the dinner table, the question you need to ask yourself is, “What kind of example am I setting for my children?”

What’s the reason for getting them a phone?

These are important questions to ask yourself and your child. If you ask your child why they want a smartphone and they respond with, “I want to use Snapchat and Facebook” or “I want one because everyone else has one”, it’s probably not the best time to get them a phone.

However, if you feel it is necessary for them to have a device for emergency communication, that is a good reason. When it comes to picking out the device, be sure to purchase a standard phone and start them out without a data plan. Remember, a phone is both a responsibility and a privilege, and should be treated as such. Taking this approach will help you encourage your child to practice responsible behaviors and strive to maintain your trust over a longer period of time.

Is your child developed and responsible enough for a phone?

As mentioned above, responsibility is required by all phone users. Therefore, communicating the expectations and rules of phone ownership should be covered with the child in advance of any purchase. If you believe they’re mature and trusted enough to have their own phone, then it could be time.

Observing their social skills and communication with others could provide some great insights.

Do they make eye contact?
Can they make new friends easily?
Do they actively engage in conversations?

These are important social skills children must develop and learn before being given a phone. In fact, buying a child or teen a smartphone before they are comfortable talking face-to-face with others can hinder social development and can make it difficult for the child to hold a physical conversation in the future.

Beyond responsibility, it is also important to talk to your child about the dangers that can target their privacy. Children are often blind to the consequences of misusing their phones. Smartphones can be a portal for cybercrime, as they can be easily lost, stolen, and hacked if their owners are not cautious.

The digital information we store, share, and exchange makes smartphones a particularly attractive device to identity thieves who target personal information. Once your child realizes these potential threats, they will be able to make more tech-savvy decisions in the future. In the next section, we’re sharing some helpful rules and strategies parents can use to ensure their child’s privacy and safety.

What smartphone rules will you implement and enforce?

If you have decided your child can use a smartphone responsibly, appropriately, and in moderation, then you must be prepared to establish some screen time ground rules. Create a contract of rules which you and your child will both follow.

Here some rules you can consider adding to your list:

  • Phones should be off 1 hour before you sleep
  • Phones will not be alarm clocks or placed under a pillow at night
  • Don’t text or answer a call while conversing with someone
  • Don’t put any PII online
  • Only visit trusted, secure websites on your mobile phone
  • Don’t text during work/school
  • Don’t converse with anyone online who you don’t know personally
  • Don’t say anything to someone online that you wouldn’t say in person (Follow the Golden Rule)

Smartphones can open up a new world for your kids to explore. As parents, we have to use our best judgment to determine if our kids are ready for that exposure. By following these tips, making the big smartphone decision can be far less stressful.

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