Each year it seems as though more kids have cell phones at younger and younger ages. In the world we live in today it is understood why we want to be able to communicate with our kids at any given time. However, there is a lot to consider when making this decision.
These are a few points parents should consider as they make the decision to give their kids a phone of their own.
Responsibility. Having a phone is a big responsibility - and not to mention a big cost, depending on the type of phone and the access given. Regardless of the cost, however, it would be important to consider if your child is responsible with their current belongings, especially with items they value. If your child demonstrates the responsibility to keep their handheld games, glasses and homework in safe places and are always able to locate them, then perhaps they are ready for a phone. If this is not the case, imagine how easily a phone can “disappear.”
Respecting Passwords. If kids are unable to keep a “safe secret” with you, are they going to be able to keep the password to their phones and to their social media accounts safe? Kids must understand that sharing their passwords with their friends is like sharing the key to their home with strangers. Would you consider your child to be too young to have a key to your home? If that is the case, rethink if they are too young to have their own cell phone.
Phones are Computers. Yes we can make calls, but when a child has a smartphone, they have the world at the palm of their hands. If the goal is to give your child a tool to communicate with you, flip phones may not be cool, but they accomplish that goal just fine.
Maturity. As parents we must consider if our kids are mature enough to handle the access they have on phones and computers. Is your child easily influenced? Is your child considered to be a “bully?” When kids are behind a screen they become more brazen than they would be in person. These are all points to consider when giving your child a smart phone where they can easily access friends (and strangers) at all times of the day.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
After considering all of the points listed above, perhaps you have made the decision that your child is ready for a smartphone. Here are a few parental tips to keep yourself “in the know” in efforts to keep your child socially and physically safe.
Education. We must show our kids that behavior on social media alters the truth in a way which highlights people’s greatest moments, which gives an unrealistic view of reality. It is easy for children (and adults for that matter!) to fall in a rut if we compare ourselves to others’ highlighted moments on social media.
Be Smart. As we provide our kids with education, we must remember to educate ourselves on the apps our kids are “hanging out” on. Remember the apps we use as adults are usually not the ones our kids use. It is also important to note kids may be trying something new every week! In terms of general social media tips, we must remember that we are our kids' parents - not their friends. However, we should be “friends” with them on social media. We should also have access to our kids’ accounts. Keep in mind there are many settings where kids can block certain content from chosen people, and it is easy for them to make a respectable account on a social media platform where you follow them, and another one strictly for their friends and strangers. Instead of taking the approach of intimidating and scaring your kids, be honest and open with them of how easy it is for strangers to present themselves as a certain character on screen, but can be someone totally different in person.
Parental Controls. As parents we do not let our kids watch certain graphic movies, we do not give our kids pornographic magazines, and we do not teach our kids how to create things which can harm others. However, when we give our kids smartphones, we give them access to all of that (and more) in an instant! We need to get smarter about parental controls. Where do we learn this and how do we do this? Just as kids can locate things easily on the web, we can too - we just have to take the time to look!
Turn the Phone Off. Beginning around fourth grade, much socializing carries over from school and onto the internet. Kids turn to their phones for longer periods of time and stay on the phone until later on in the evening. In some households, phones must be turned off during homework and/or dinner time. In other households, kids are only allowed to have their phones to go to school and for a limited time throughout the afternoon. Regardless of age, a good rule of thumb would be to charge children’s phones in a central location overnight so they are truly disconnected - at least while they sleep.
Monitoring Ourselves. We must take our own phone and social media habits into account. If we are are always behind a screen, we are subconsciously giving kids permission to do the same.
Technology is an integral part of our everyday lives and it is ever-changing. Toddlers now know basic phone functions more than a grandparent may. As parents it is our responsibility to implement these tips at a young age. Remember it is easier to control the actions of an eight-year-old than those of an eighth grader.
Always aiming to helping you Learn, Grow & Inspire... Mindfully.
Counselor De Jesus
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Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is a former teacher, school counselor and licensed associate counselor serving children and families in the northern New Jersey area. To learn more visit www.freetobemindful.com.