It’s time to have the talk with your kids.
Not that talk, though you may find they overlap at times. We’re referring to the digital device talk.
As technology continues to evolve and our use of it expands, it becomes more and more important to teach children to use it responsibly. The latest Pew Research shows that 95 percent of American adults now own a cell phone of some kind; 77 percent own a smartphone. This CBS article quotes Shawn DuBravac from the Consumer Electronics Association:
“Today about 80 percent of teens between 12 and 17 own a cell phone, and about half of those own a smart phone…. That’s about twice the rate from just two years ago.”
Of course, many toddlers are well-versed when it comes to a smartphone or tablet, even if they don’t have their own just yet. With this rise in use among children, we’ve seen some unsettling trends: online predators, digital addiction, and increased rates of depression and anxiety associated with social media use.
With the internet here to stay, the best we can do is teach our children how to navigate the digital world, and there’s no better time than now. If your two-year-old can download and use an app, you can start setting guidelines and having discussions that are suitable for your child according to their age and maturity. When you put those rules in place when the kids are young, it’s easier to establish a “this is how we do things around here” environment when it comes to mobile devices.
But it’s never too late. Even if your kids are older, they will benefit from an ongoing conversation with you about internet use and safety. Here are some things to consider:
Determine When Your Child Gets a Smartphone or Tablet
The New York Times reported in 2016 that the average age for a child to get a smartphone was 10. However, the experts are quick to say maturity is more important than age: it’s up to the parents to decide when is the right time. Experts tend to agree that “…later was safer because smartphones can be addictive distractions that detract from schoolwork while exposing children to issues like online bullies, child predators or sexting.”
Is your child ready for her own device? Ask yourself these questions:
- Can he keep track of his belongings, or is he regularly losing items?
- Does she follow your rules and directions in other areas of life?
- Is he familiar with photo editing and the idea that not everything he sees online is a realistic depiction of life?
- Can you keep an open dialogue with her about the internet and what she does there?
Sign a Contract
This CBS article recommends creating a contract with your child about smartphone use. Points may include having access to her passwords, requiring permission before she downloads anything, restricting use to certain hours, and outlining which activities can be done on the device. Create and sign it together; use it as a conversation starter so you can explain why those rules are in place and he has a chance to understand them after questioning them, if necessary.
Discuss the Dangers
It’s hard to talk about, but it’s necessary: kids need to know what they should and shouldn’t share online. Here are a few points to touch on during that conversation:
- Never give away any personal information to people you don’t know. Don’t post your location publicly.
- People aren’t always who they say they are. Even someone you meet on social media and chat with for months might be lying about their identity.
- Social media is a highlight reel. Everyone has bad days, but they don’t usually talk about that online. Not everyone’s life is as perfect as they make it look on social media.
- Treat everyone with respect. Don’t engage in name-calling or rude conversations.
- Don’t post anything that would hurt someone’s feelings. This includes photos, videos, and comments.
- If someone, even a friend, makes you feel uncomfortable, tell me about it. We’ll discuss what we need to do about it, and I won’t make any decisions about it without your input.
- Don’t share any nude or suggestive photos with anyone, even if you know and trust the person. Sometimes these photos get stolen or intentionally shared or posted publicly.
Lead By Example
Show your children what you want them to do by doing it yourself: turn your phone off at dinner, never check it while you’re driving (even when stopped at a light), and engage in respectful conversation on social media.
You may decide as part of your contract that you will friend and follow each other on social media; however, even if you don’t, your child or one of your child’s friends might look up your profile. Take some time to clean it up: remove any photos or comments that would be hard for you to explain or that might embarrass your child. Another kid could use your old posts as a way to make fun of your son or daughter.
It’s much easier to enforce a rule if you’re committed to the same rules. Of course, the hours you use your phone may be different than what you expect of your child, but those measures of safety and respect are good guidelines for everyone.
Use Parental Controls
The lure of late-night check-ins can be too much for even the most well-intentioned young smartphone user. Eliminate these temptations–and make your job easier–by using trustworthy parental controls on your children’s mobile devices.
Block internet access or certain apps during certain hours to help your child pay attention in school and get a good night’s sleep. Those enforced hours help your child get used to spending time away from his device and, hopefully, not grow dependent on or addicted to it.
You can also block certain sites or categories of sites. Many adult-oriented dating sites or apps, for example, can still be accessed by kids who simply lie about their age. It’s natural for children to be curious, especially if their friends are using these sites; blocking them helps prevent that curiosity from taking over.
Don’t underestimate your young child’s ability to pick up on and use mobile devices. Even if she seems too young for the internet, keep in mind that an environment of responsible internet usage will have an impact on her, even at that young age. As she grows up watching you put your phone down at dinner, for example, it’s more natural for her to do the same when she has her own phone.
When you start the conversation early, the line of communication feels more open and natural, rather than trying to force it open when your child has grown up without it. No matter how old your child is, start talking about responsible smartphone use now.