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How To Make Sure Your Old Phone Is Safe For Your Child To Use
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  • Your kid has finally made a convincing case for their own phone, and you've decided they're ready. As luck would have it, your device is still perfectly functional and would make an excellent hand-me-down first phone. (And if anyone in the family is getting the latest, coolest device, it’s you!)

    How to set up your old phone when you want to give it to your child 

    Preparing a used device, however, for its new young owner is a little tricky. Below are all the steps you'll need to make that happen, including how to remove all your old stuff, set it up with built-in limits, find safe, useful apps, and have a conversation about responsible phone use.

    Start fresh by clearing everything off your phone

    Performing a full reset on the device will bring it back to its original state. First, back everything up to your preferred storage, either a service (such as iCloud or Google Cloud) or hardware, such as your computer or external hard drive. The reset wipes out all the settings and other cached gunk and clears all your data, including files and downloaded apps. But don't worry, once you set up your new phone, your data will download to it. Here's how:

    For iPhones. Use these backup instructions. Then, go into settings > general > reset > erase all content and settings.

    For Android phones. Use these backup instructions. Then, go to settings and go to Factory Data Reset.

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    Set up limits for screen time, viewing, purchasing, and more

    Smartphones open up a whole new world for kids — which they're not always ready for. Both Apple and Android have built-in parental-control-type settings that make your kid's transition from no phone to new phone a lot more manageable for them — and you. With these settings, you can set a daily bedtime that automatically turns off the phone at night, prevent downloads of age-inappropriate content, and set time limits.

    It's a good idea to add these settings to the phone before you give your phone to your kid. It's way easier to take the restrictions off as kids demonstrate responsibility and maturity — and as their needs change — than to reign in kids after they've had a taste of freedom.


    On iPhones, the settings are called Screen Time, and you enable them in the Settings app. There are two ways to set it up: You can either enable the settings on your kid's phone and passcode-protect them or manage your kid's phone from yours through Apple's Family Sharing service.

    On Android Phones, the settings are available in Google's parental control app, called Family Link.

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    Consider a phone-monitoring app

    Some parents want to stay pretty closely involved in what their kids are doing on their phones, especially when it's their first. While Screen Time and Family Link allow you to set limits, they don't give you real-time information about what your kid is talking about, what they're posting and receiving, and whom they're communicating with. For that, you need a monitoring app, such as Bark, Qustodio, or WebWatcher. These can give you visibility into your kid's texts, social media including Instagram and Snapchat, and even photos and videos. They also alert you when iffy content comes through and provide activity reports for even more supervision.

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    Keep in mind that, for most kids, open communication about your expectations and occasional spot checks will be enough to ensure kids are using their phones responsibly. And monitors do have downsides: They can make your kids feel like they're being spied on, which makes them feel like you don't trust them and can harm your relationship. These programs also cost money, but most offer a free trial. But if you have special concerns about your kid's social media use or social life, monitors are worth checking out.

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    Discuss expectations before the hand-off

    In the excitement and transition of getting a first device (and for you, perhaps a new device!), it’s essential to communicate your family’s rules around what’s expected. 

    Establish device-free times and zones

    Decide which areas of your home and what times of day you want to be no-phone zones, such as the dinner table, at bedtime, or before homework is done.


    Be a good phone role model

    When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it. They learn their habits by watching what you do.

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    Be clear about your expectations

    • It's way better to establish basic parameters now than later — after all, the times are ever-changing. A family media agreement is a fair and efficient (and documented) way to set and establish those rules first thing, and all parties are held accountable. A few areas to set rules around:
    • Multitasking. Phones off during homework.
    • Online spending. Will you allow them to spend real money in games and apps, and if so, how much?
    • Downloading content. You can prevent them from downloading anything in the phone settings, but it's a good idea to also establish the routine of asking for permission for what they want to download.
    • Spot checks. You don't have to be a warden, but you should prepare your kid for occasional spot checks to see what they're doing and to make sure their online lives are healthy and constructive.
    • Basic usage rules. How much time per day? Will you let them use the phone in their bedroom? What time does it go off? You can cover this in your family media agreement.
    • Communicating. Stuff will happen on the phone that will affect your kid's real life. You need to be kept in the loop so you can support and guide your kid — and share in their newfound excitement. Let your kid know you still want to keep talking, even if it's just about the latest TikTok challenge.

    Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out its ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org and sign up for its newsletter to read more articles like this.

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