The role of technology in child's life is a heatedly discussed topic among parents and experts. Smartphones most especially are the trickiest to monitor, Internet safety speaker Jesse Weinberger tells The New York Times, since the device is always with your child but you don't have 24/7 parental supervision.
According to research firm Influence Central, American children are getting their own smartphones at age 10; some kids get one as early as age 7. Internet safety experts say the trend is younger kids are going to have their own smartphones soon. It won't be any different here in our country.
James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, shares that his kids only get a smartphone when they start high school, after they have learned restraint and the value of face-to-face communication. “No two kids are the same, and there’s no magic number. A kid’s age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level,” he adds.
Most experts agree on one thing, though: The longer you wait to give your child his own smartphone, the better. We all know these gadgets could be addictive, and it could become a distraction from school work and could expose your child to online bullying, child predators, or street snatchers. Yet we cannot deny that cell phones are a great communication tool and smartphone apps are also useful for learning -- advantages could easily be accessed via a computer or tablet at home.
If you decide to buy your child his own phone, consider getting a call-and-text-only phone. If you opt to buy a smartphone for your kid, opt for a kid-friendly one rather than the latest models. Learn how to work any gadget their child can operate and take advantage of smartphones’ parental control features. You can also install safety apps (e.g. limited browsing, time usage, tracking) to address some safety concerns.
Include your child in drawing the smartphone rules, and produce a contract you can both sign. Doing so will make him feel his opinion is valued. Plus, kids are most likely to follow the rules when they helped make them. Whatever you end up with, these are some of the non-negotiable safety rules you should include, according Common Sense Media.
1. Only respond to phone numbers you know. Whether it’s a text message or an unknown caller, tell your child to ignore it and tell you every time he or she receives an anonymous text or call. Child predators and those who prey on kids to get to their parents is a real threat. It’s better to err on the side of caution.
2. Don't send of forward mean message of inappropriate photos. Tell your child that his smartphone is an extension of himself, and therefore the social rules still apply. Good manners and proper etiquette should be observed. Your child should not send any message that he’s not allowed to send in person. Ask before taking and sharing someone else's picture.
3. Get permission before downloading something. If he wants to install any app other than the ones you’ve already installed, you, the parents should first check it out, download it on your own phone and check if it’s safe before you say yes. Don’t forget to always update privacy setting after download apps.
4. Limit location sharing. The smartphone’s GPS is a double-edged sword. On one side, your locator app requires the GPS to be on at all times, but other apps and people could also use it to track and post your child the location online which is a no-no.
5. Follow home and school cell phone rules. Strictly follow through with the consequences that you've set if and when your child breaks the family rules you've set. Schools have their own policies, so make sure your kids abide by them. In school, smartphones should always be on silent, or only turn it on after dismissal time.