Parentzone: giving kids their first smartphone?

For most parents it’s no longer a question of whether to give your child a smartphone, simply a matter of when.

Turning that first smartphone purchase into a significant milestone is a great opportunity to review any tech rules you have in your family and even have a chat about whether you’re all happy with your phone life balance.

What’s important is that before you hand over the device to your child, you feel confident that they understand the boundaries and you’re happy that they know the risks.  All parents have concerns, whether it’s the fear that they’ll break an expensive device or just lose the phone, or that they will run up huge bills, or come across some inappropriate content. You can’t prevent any bad thing happening but you can definitely mitigate the risks by trying out some of our top tips.

Parent Zone’s Top Tips

1. Establish ground rules
Before you hand over the device, agree some basic rules. Discuss safety tips, such as keeping the phone in a bag or pocket when out and about, and making sure it’s set to auto-lock with a strong password, in case it is lost or stolen.

2. Work together
If you decide to use parental controls, set them up together. For younger children, making sure they can’t make any accidental in-app purchases is sensible and most parents will want to leave the over 18 filter that is set by default by mobile operators in place. As children get older you’ll want to encourage them to become more independent by encouraging them to use the tools themselves, like blocking and muting functions. Remember that individual apps will all have their own settings, as will search engines. Remember, if your child is using their mobile over the Wi-Fi network the mobile operator filter won’t work.

3. Don’t push them away
Try to resist any urge to use the smartphone as a way of disciplining your child. It’s often the item they care about most and so it can be a powerful bargaining chip and tempting to use as a punishment. The trouble is if something does go wrong online, you’ll want them to feel comfortable talking to you about it without worrying their access to the online world will be taken away.

4. Know who to turn to
Children need to feel able to talk openly to you or another trusted adult if things go wrong. That can be really hard for them even when you make every effort to explain that you’re on their side. Making sure they know how to report anything inappropriate or upsetting that they come across when using their phone gives them another way to handle difficult situations. Showing them how to report to the services they use (like Snapchat or WhatsApp) as well as agencies that can help for more serious issues, such as CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency) is just like teaching them how to dial 999 if they need to. You hope they never will, but it’s better that they know how to in case they do.

5. Make the costs clear
If you receive a phone bill that’s larger than expected, check this with your child and make sure they understand the cost of in-app purchases within their favourite games, and the cost of data to download and view videos. You can take up any issues with their phone’s network provider. If it concerns a charge to a phone bill, you can also speak to the provider of the service or the Phone-paid Services Authority.

6. Stay involved
It’s impossible to stay up to date with all the apps and games out there, but if you keep talking to your child about their favourite games and apps and continue the conversation about technology in your family you’ll be fostering the best kind of digital family life.

You might want to have a look over other parent guides from Parent Zone, they cover many channels, from Netflix and Instagram to live streaming and console games.

Parent Zone also issue the Digital Parenting magazine in collaboration with Vodafone. You can subscribe to it here.

Most importantly, know and speak to your child about what can be charged to a phone bill.

by Vicki Shotbolt, CEO of Parent Zone

Parent Zone is a social enterprise that helps families meet the challenges of the digital age

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