Be smart about kids' smartphones: Tips to make sure they enjoy benefits without the dangers
Most mobiles are now smartphones that give kids access to the internet and yet two-thirds of youngsters’ phones do not have parental controls
Deciding whether to give your child a mobile phone has never been trickier for mums.
Not only is the age when youngsters begin pestering for one falling all the time (three in four already have a phone by the age of 10), but there’s also the worry that the latest devices do so much more than just make calls and text.
Most mobiles on the market are now smartphones – powerful mini-laptops that give kids access to the internet 24/7 and yet two-thirds of youngsters’ phones do not have parental controls.
So how do you allow your kids to stay up to date and ensure they’re safe?
Here, online parenting guru Monica Vila, author of Generation Smartphone, a guide for parents, shares her tips.
Would a smartphone make my child safer?
Although kids want a phone to download apps and play games, the test is whether they need one.
Monica says: “With many parents going out to work these days, it may be that the phone is needed for your piece of mind – especially as many come with global positioning apps, which help you locate where your child is.”
Look for signs that they can be trusted. Take a cue from how responsibly your child uses video games and the internet.
Do they stop when you ask them? Do you think they would use technology safely out of your sight, too?
Is your child old enough for a mobile phone?
It’s even more important you ask yourself the right questions if you’re considering buying them a smartphone, says Monica.
Do they look after their things? If your child’s homework gets lost on its way from school, chances are it won’t be long before their new gadget goes astray, too. Monica says: “Wait until they are more responsible with their possessions.”
How do I buy them their first phone?
To start with, Monica suggests buying the previous model of the latest device, like the iPhone 4 instead of 5, and offering upgrades as rewards: “The outdated models not only tend to be cheaper but your children will also have to earn your trust for the latest model with responsible phone use.”
How do you set it up?
Set a password: Setting a password is the first line of defense against thieves or other kids who may “ borrow” your child’s phone to play practical jokes.
Get a cover: Inevitably, your child will drop the phone. Buy a case that is designed for the specific model – it’ll keep the screen safe and save you the cost of replacing it.
Pick a pocket: Choose a special pocket in their school backpack for the phone and tell them to make sure they always keep it there so they keep tabs on it.
Look for easy-to-use controls: The latest smartphones have much better built-in controls. Use a separate parental password to add or take away the phone’s capabilities, according to how responsible your child is.
Set up a contacts list: Most parents give kids phones to keep them safe. So start by putting in the numbers for parents, grandparents, their school and emergency contacts.
Download safety apps: The good thing about smartphones is that you can download software that keeps them safer. For example, the Lookout app will help you locate your child’s phone by making a high-pitched squealing sound if it goes missing. It also protects kids from downloading bad apps. Go to www.mylookout.com for details.
How to set ground rules
Many mums now find it more economical to add their child’s phone to their existing mobile bills, rather than trying to limit kids’ usage with pay-as-you-go plans.
It can also be frustrating for parents trying to get hold of kids to find that it’s not possible for them to ring you because they’ve run out of credit.
But more freedom means it’s essential you lay down the ground rules.
Surprisingly, the best judge of regulation could be your child.
Monica says: “If you give your 12-year-old a smartphone and say let’s draft some rules, nine out of 10 times they will add some you’ve never thought of because this is their big chance to show they can be responsible.”
One key rule adults may have to establish though is to ban phones overnight from bedrooms.
Monica suggests kids hand them over every evening for parents to recharge. “If you leave them in the bedroom, they won’t be able to resist them. They will end up deprived of sleep and that could wreck their schoolwork, too.”
How to deal with the issue of sexting
Even if it seems early, broach this subject sooner rather than later, because sending a sex-related text (sext) may be a natural by-product of their curiosity as they go through puberty. From the very outset, explain they should never post or send pictures likely to make others feel uncomfortable.
“Make them realize it’s not just you by showing them examples in the news of what can happen when it all goes wrong,” says Monica.
YOU CAN DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF GENERATION SMARTPHONE: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS OF TWEENS & TEENS BY MONICA VILA FROM MOBILE SECURITY SITE WWW.MYLOOKOUT.COM.
The above article appeared in the The Daily Mirror, published by MGN Limited, part of Trinity Mirror plc.