The world has never been a smaller place for anyone with an internet connection, and it can represent a great way to meet new people, learn about just about anything and get involved in challenging activities. However, the open nature of communication can come with its own pitfalls, and many parents are concerned with how their kids make use of the tools available to them.
It can be challenging to set ground rules, as many parents did not have phones at all at the same age, let alone devices that are as capable as modern smartphones and tablets. However, the instinct towards protecting their children regardless of what they are doing remains, and the following tips will set any parent on the right path when teaching their children about how to manage their phone.
1. Start with the Basics
Phone safety may be new to the child, but it can also be a new concept to the parent, and it will benefit both to start with the basics. Your own day to day use can underpin these early discussions where you tell your child about locking the phone, switching from a ringer to vibration and other core functionality. You can also take this opportunity to introduce the contact list, adding yourself as the first and most prominent contacts.
2. Consider a Phone Designed for Kids
This tip depends on the age of the child and any previous experience with mobile devices. There are smartphones out there that have been designed with kids in mind. This usually involves functional changes to the aesthetics of the device and dedicated apps built over an Android shell. These phones come with standard features not found on traditional phones, like phonebooks, that only enable contacts to be added by parents, and calls and texts only to be made and received from approved numbers. They also take into account that kids rarely take great care of their possessions, and they are suitably rugged to compensate.
3. Monitor and Limit Usage
You may appreciate and even value your child’s independence, but they should not be allowed to run riot with their phones, especially if it is to the detriment of other activities. If your child is unable to prioritise, such as spending time watching YouTube rather than doing their homework, then it is down to the parent to set limits for them until they can manage their time more effectively.
4. Be Clear that Phones are Not Toys
Phones are a great means of teaching children about responsibility. It can be worth being honest about the costs, including the device itself, monthly payments and even the nominal amounts for calls and texts. If they can understand the inherent value of the services it provides, it can be a great way to assist in learning about budgeting.
5. Consider Privacy and Personal Space
Some children will not be aware of the implications of handing out their phone number. Be clear that if exchanging contact information with someone they do not know too well, it is best to take their number and initiate contact on your own terms. Similarly, if they use the phone for internet access, remind them that it is never a good idea to publish the number publicly.
6. Be Diligent with Incoming Communications
Following the point above, it is important to remember that it is not just the phone’s owner that has the capability of giving out the number. Reiterate that it is not essential to answer every call and text that is received and educate the child on blocking numbers on their specific device if there are numbers that call frequently or maliciously.
7. Make Your Own Life Easier
We have all been on the receiving end of unreasonable tantrums, and it is incredible just how seriously children take it when their phone is not working properly. Keep their charger in one location and do not let them move it – you will thank us if it ever gets lost and the phone won’t turn on! Similarly, if anything does happen to the device, it will be you that is expected to replace it. You can always say no but can save a headache by investing in a toughened case, insurance or both.
8. Teach Phone Etiquette
When we go to the cinema, we know that it is the proper protocol to set the phone to silent. However, it is one of those things that people assume everyone knows, yet everyone heard about it for the first time once. Go through situations and locations where phone use is frowned upon so that your child can use the proper etiquette.
9. Monitor Apps
Apps are great for expanding functionality on the phone, and there is something for every use case. If you decide to block new apps from being installed altogether, you might be impairing the usefulness of the device unnecessarily. Teach your child that they should only use apps they really need, and regularly look at the phone to see what has been added. If you do decide to delete any apps, make sure to be open and honest about why – children are more likely to accept the decision if they can see the reasoning and potentially make their own case for keeping it.
10. Lock In-App Purchases
Most parents will have grown up in a time when you bought a game and had access to all the content in return for your money. More games rely on buying extras today than those that package everything up for a fixed price. It is not just children that get carried away with in-app purchases, but they can have particular difficulty with equating tapping ‘buy’ with real money being spent. It is best to lock these purchases down completely as a rule, and you can always make one-off purchases with your own unique password in the future.