Like many other Australians, our family is on the brink of being conscripted into the arms race of junior phone ownership.
As parents of three tech-savvy kidlets (even the two-year-old has the tablet mastered), there is no avoiding the necessary smartphone policy development within the Government of Laird. How do we ensure the powerful micro computer – which also happens to be a phone – enhances personal functionality, rather than staging a total coup?
Here are ten things based on experience that you might consider before giving your child a smartphone.
1. Decide when the time is right
There is no ‘right’ age – purpose and need is a better guide. Our eldest received her phone at the same time she started using public transport. While it hasn’t happened yet, it would be nice to receive a call if she ever forgets her school tram stop and ends up spending the day at Port Melbourne beach instead. Did it need to be a smartphone? Not really, but she got a hand-me-down as an added bonus.
2. Establish a written usage agreement
This is a document setting out your child’s rights and responsibilities with regard to phone usage. The internet has numerous examples, which you should re-write to reflect your family beliefs and values. We stole, sorry, were inspired by this one. Parents and child read and sign, which you can hold against your child at the Phone Crimes Tribunal later.
3. Make use of parental controls
Do an internet search of ‘parental controls’ for the phone brand and model you are considering. There are usually settings that allow you to control a range of website and purchasing functions, which you manage with a password. Read it. Understand it. Use it.
4. Protect your bank account
We gave our eldest the information she needed to understand and track her phone and data usage. Then we gave her a grace period of a month or so to get a sense of how long it takes to go through that allowance. There is a lot to say about monthly pre-paid arrangements. While we haven’t reached this point yet, kiddie co-payments are inevitable and promote responsibility.
5. Protect the phone
Kids drop stuff and lose stuff all the time. Phones are perfect for this. Get a hard case, preferably personalised, and a screen protector. Add a password to protect the information that is inevitably contained within it. KNOW the password.
6. Protect your social standing
Each family is entitled to its own policy on phone and internet usage. Be mindful that your child will use their phone like a toy, sharing its functions with friends. Those friends’ parents may not appreciate your child’s phone providing access to social media, photo uploading etc. The reverse is true too. I know it was perplexing for us when other people’s kids brought their smartphones and photo sharing capability along to a tween sleepover we were hosting.
7. Get comfortable with the idea that you need to conduct random spot-checks
Particularly true for younger users. This is not a civil libertarian issue – this is about responsible parenting, so be ok with it. A quick scan of messages, photos and internet history can short-circuit a world of trouble.
8. Establish what your household culture of technology usage is going to be
We have a centralised charging station in the kitchen where everyone’s devices must reside during the evening. They are not to be used in bedrooms. Playing with a phone counts as ‘screen time’ in our book. Devices are not allowed at dining tables at home or in public. The mood lighting at a fine dining establishment we recently attended was provided by the family of three who each glowed speechless by their tablet screens through the entire meal. We never want to be that family.
9. If in doubt, opt out
Technology gives your precious darlings access to everything in the world – everything. At any sign of that access being detrimental, and there will always be mistakes, be okay withdrawing that amazing benefit while you ensure the right guard rails are in place.
10. Love technology
The flipside of #9 is that there are enormous benefits to the technology we have at our fingertips. Education, communication, and personal safety and wellbeing is just the beginning. It’s the oil that greases the wheels of most modern workplaces, and it’s the sign of a modern education that our kids incorporate its use into their learning.
What do you suggest adding to this list? Let us know in the comments below.
Jason and his wife herd a family of five including three phones, three iPads, two laptops and a television remote control especially for their two-year-old.