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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Buying your child a smartphone? Time for a family meeting!

The Online Mom recently partnered with mobile security company Lookout to produce Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens & Teens. The guide outlines some important steps that parents can take to prepare their children for owning a smartphone or other digital device.

One of those steps is to hold a family meeting to discuss how the new smartphone or tablet is going to be used. The best time for this meeting is when the device is still in the box and before they start downloading the latest edition of Angry Birds. Here are some suggested topics for your meeting:

  • How to handle emergencies. Make sure your child is aware that she can and should call you and/or dial 9-1-1 in an emergency.
  • Safe surfing and downloads. Don’t assume that a web-savvy kid has all this under control. A mobile device’s smaller screen size makes it hard to tell the legitimate sites from the bad ones. Advise your child to avoid clicking on websites that she’s not familiar with, and ask her to check new sites and apps with you before visiting or downloading them.
  • Inappropriate content. If your child’s phone has a camera, she should understand and agree not to take, send or forward inappropriate pictures to others. Your child should also agree not to send mean or threatening texts or voice messages to others – and she should let you know if she receives any communications of this nature.
  • Online Privacy. Teach your child to respect her own privacy as well as the privacy of others. She should not post personal information to web sites or answer questionnaires that ask for personal information or details about the family. Do not forward texts or e-mails that contain other people’s personal information or which may be embarrassing for others. Do not forward or post photos of other people without their permission. Teach your child to treat others the same way she would like to be treated herself.
  • Stranger danger. Kids should be aware that it’s critical for them to let you know if they receive voice, text or picture messages from anyone they don’t know, and that they should never respond to such communications.
  • Teens and driving. Over 75 percent of all teen drivers admit that they text while driving. Even if your child is not old enough to drive yet, you can impress upon her the potentially fatal consequences of texting while driving – and being in a car driven by someone else who is texting.

Discuss texting and talking allowances. The average teen sends more than 50 texts a day! While texting gives you a way to have quick and convenient communications with your kids, it also opens the door to excessive and unsupervised conversations with friends.

Many mobile providers offer plans that cap the number of texts and even the minutes of talking allowed, and will send notifications when a user is nearing the limit. Depending on your child’s age, you might also simply want to green-light times of day that are okay for smartphone use, and collect the device at all other times to eliminate the temptation.

Rules and Contract Signing. At the end of the meeting, tailor and sign a Phone Rules Agreement and post it in a prominent place in your home. Reiterate the fact that your child already has your trust – and that it’s hers to keep or lose!

A full copy of Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens & Teens can be downloaded here.

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