What parents should know before giving children their first smartphone
Sten Kirkbak, Co-Founder of XPLORA, the watch phone designed to keep children safe when out and about, shares his insights on what parents should know before getting them their first smartphone.
Think about why your child needs the phone
Before you get into the logistics of getting a smartphone, think about whether your child actually needs one, and if you think they do, what they need it for. For example, if you want to be able to contact your child, or keep track of them, there are always other options, such as the XPLORA watch phone, or a basic phone without the smartphone functionalities.
Consider whether your child is responsible
The first thing you need to think about when getting your child their first smartphone is whether they are ready to handle the responsibility. There is the very straightforward fact that smartphones are expensive, so you want to make sure your child understands this and won’t lose it or damage it because of carelessness. You can do trial runs of this by asking them to carry something of value with them every day – perhaps a set of keys (it doesn’t necessarily need to be the set to your house if you’re worried), or a little purse with small change.
Consider if they’re ready
Once you know the child is responsible enough for a smartphone, you want to think about whether they’re ready for the access that having a smartphone brings. You want to have a serious chat with them about the implications that social media has – that they need to have responsibility for what they share online and even the messages they send to friends. It is also a good idea to use parental controls and even take the child’s phone away once they get home, at least to start with so that it doesn’t interrupt quality family time.
Teach them, and yourself, about social media and digital responsibility
While for adults social media is a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, for children who are growing up surrounded by it, social media can be the cause of stress, anxiety and bullying. Before giving your child their first smartphone, make sure that both you and your child know as much as you can about digital responsibility, signs of cyberbullying and coping mechanisms. Some schools will have offer classes on this, but if not, you can always visit cyberwise.org, which will give you useful pointers and teach you about online security.
Make a contract
Instead of setting verbal rules that you can change and add to, make sure your child has consistency and form an official contract with them. A few written down rules signed by both you and your child will make it a lot easier to follow rules such as how much time they spend on their phone, what they use it for and the punishments they will receive if they break the rules. I would also advise of an action plan in case your child is contacted by a stranger, faced with inappropriate content on social media or experienced cyberbullying. Confiscating their phone won’t solve these issues, so make sure both you and your child know what to do in case any of the above occurs.
Get to know the devices yourself
If you have decided to get your child a smartphone, then make sure you know both your own and your child’s devices as well as possible. For example, a variety of different apps are available to parents in order to block phones from accessing certain websites. Additionally, a lot of phones now have default settings that allow parents to block inappropriate websites and limit the use of social media. When XPLORA conducted a poll of its users, we found that many parents weren’t aware of settings such as these, so take your time and choose the devices that work best for you and your family.