The day a child gets their first phone is a milestone - one that many parents dread. Yet, unlike some other milestones in a young person’s life, there is no set age at which it is most appropriate to give a child a smartphone; this could vary significantly from family to family.
So how can parents begin the new year with a peace-of-mind knowing their child or children have phones? Well, we recommend families take the time to sit down together and establish a set of ‘First Phone Guidelines’.
Consider as a family what the consequences of misusing the phone will be before giving your child one, as this will ensure that the punishment is proportionate to your child’s actions. It also makes consequences easier to enforce. You should communicate these consequences to your child so that they know what is expected of them. It’s also beneficial because it sets the expectation that they will be held accountable if they do not comply with the rules.
Discuss and agree on the level of involvement you will have in managing the phone: remembering that this can always increase or decrease as needed in the future. Just remember to remain on the same page as your child and keep having ongoing conversations about how they are using their phone in a positive way as well as some of the challenges they face — that way, if something does go wrong, your child will feel comfortable coming to you for help.
When discussing first phone rules with your child make sure you include all rules, such as which apps you will allow them to use; how you will manage in-app purchases or prevent additional application downloads; what the rules will be regarding who your child can give their number to and how top-ups and phone plans will be managed and paid for.
Be consistent. Setting clear expectations surrounding the usage of your child’s phone will ensure a shared understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate between you and your child. This will also help develop a level of trust and cooperation.
Explain phone etiquette to your child. How you expect them to reply and how timely those replies should be when you or their friends contact them. This will vary from family to family, but it is yet again important to keep these expectations consistent.
Smartphones are powerful tools, so be sure to create expectations around what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.For example, explain how the phone is not to be used for: bullying or harassing others, or capturing or distributing images of other people without their knowledge or permission. While these things may seem like they go without saying — they’re still certainly worth saying.
Finally, put the agreed upon rules in writing. We recommend using an interactive tool such as The Smart Talk. This makes it easy for everyone to see and comply with the rules that you’ve created as a family.
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Kristin Trapp, 6 Cell Phone Rules for Kids and Teenagers
Raising Children Network, Responsible mobile phone use for children and teenagers
Shelly Gorr, Help to manage kids’ screen time