Every parent in the digital age will ponder this question at some point. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Smartphone usage is a reality of modern society, and teaching kids and teens to use them responsibly has become an important part of parenting. Before you rush out to buy the latest iPhone or Galaxy for your kids, go through the following checklist.
Identify the uses of the smartphone
Have your kids make a list of all the reasons why they want a smartphone and what they should be allowed to do with it. Would phone use be limited to schedule planning, such as coordinating transport arrangements? Or do your kids intend to use the smartphone for social media and gaming? While you’re at it, write down the reasons why you think they should have a smartphone. When you are done, compare their motivations to your expectations and use that as the basis to formulate clear rules for smartphone usage. Going through this exercise upfront can help put everyone in the family on the same page.
Be prepared to step in and help
It is important for parents to have a no-questions-asked policy to keep their children safe from dangerous situations. Many kids will not disclose to their parents that something bad is happenning online because they don’t want to lose access to their smartphone or they don’t want to tip their parents off about something that they probably shouldn’t be doing.
For this reason, you need to keep the lines of communication open. Start by having an agreement with your kids that encourages them to disclose to you that there’s a bad situation and you can step in to help and try to contain it before things get totally out of hand. This “call me anytime” understanding when it comes to their digital lives can be a life saver.
Focus on the positives
Not everything associated with teens and screens is bad. Smartphone usage can have numerous positives. For instance, your child can use a mobile app like Duolingo to pick up a new language.
Even the much-maligned social media can serve as a bridge for young people who are shy or have difficulties reaching out to others. Used sensibly, social media can help kids to build their social capital, deepen their connections and relationships with other people, and share the things that they care about.
As a communication tool, a smartphone also acts as a safety net when your kids ask to meet up with friends. Rather than accompany them everywhere they go, using a smartphone to stay in touch can foster a sense of independence and freedom for your kids in a way that feels safe for parents.
Watch out for cyberbullying
According to research, online bullying is a prevalent problem and smartphones are the most common medium for cyberbullying. Before handing over a smartphone to your child, you should address this issue with a frank discussion. Teach your child to avoid cyberbullying by being empathetic and compassionate. Let them know they should be ready to stand up for their friends if they’re targeted and inform someone if something’s going on that seems not quite right.
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