This parenting caper isn’t all it’s cracked up to be you know, it’s stressful, and today’s parents are learning alone because the decision to give your child a smartphone isn’t one our parents had to deal with.
It’s not just a matter of when to give your child their first smartphone, there’s also the important issue of what they can and will do with it when they get it. You must look at the whole picture to ensure you are prepared – as best you can be.
Now, this advice is based on my own personal experience, along with much feedback from many callers and emailers over the years. It’s not the bible, there is no one “right” way to do things, every family, every child, every situation is different.
Use these suggestions, and those of others as a guide to how you will approach this and know this – we all make mistakes along the way.
When should I give my child a smartphone?
Ahh, well that is entirely your own decision – but here are some things that came into our consideration.
High School. That level of school comes with a new level of independence, getting to and from school, getting from class to class. And with independence comes responsibility, so a smartphone at high-school seems the logical, and most common time to start this journey.
For us, we started slowly a year earlier. We let our son use a smartphone every Friday. This was the day all the “year 6 kids” would hang out at the park after school, so this way we could keep in touch if needed.
From there it progressed to the full-time use at High-School age.
Which Smartphone should I give my child?
Don’t be pressured by them into buying the latest. They WILL break their first phone, screen, whole thing, who knows. Yes, some people will have a new phone, but that will be rare.
Give them your old phone, treat yourself to a new one.
Also, some of my later advice is device dependent, so if you are an Apple Family, there’s no doubt using an iPhone is a better solution – however even a brand new affordable model Android Phone could save you hundreds and hundreds of dollars – could be ideal for the first year or two, before they earn an iPhone
Do I have to buy a new phone for my child’s first smartphone?
No doubt the simplest solution is a hand-me-down. Your old phone, or one of those ones you keep in the drawer – simple, and done!
Or, consider buying a Refurbished phone – as good as new, but without the price tag.
The rules of owning a smartphone & Signing a Digital Contract
Every home needs rules. Particularly family homes, screen time rules are a must.
Introduce these as early as possible, I mean, toddler age if you can.
Knowing there are boundaries is the first real challenge in keeping them.
For example, 1 hour a day of device time. Having this in their primary school years will make graduating to a smartphone with restrictions a whole lot easier.
Once they get a phone, set rules around the usage. Things like “We can always ask to look at what you’re doing or messages you are reading – no questions”. No screen time at or after dinner might be another one.
Set the rules. Hard to be angry at a kid who did something they didn’t know what wrong.
Which brings me to the Digital Contract. Sounds extreme – it’s not.
Write out rules, write out expectations, make them put their name to it.
Kids have to sign these kinds of things when they play school sport, or join the Student representative body.
Then, when your kids do break the rules, you can sit down and talk through the issues and how they relate back to your contract.
Not that it’s the gold standard, but for your reference, here is an example Digital Contract for a teenager:
Tracking your kids on their Smartphone
When I was a kid, you’d be home for dinner. And if you were out, and needed a lift home, you’d call reverse charges or use a telecard or Phone card to call home.
Now, you want them to let you know where they are, and what they are doing. One part of that – but not replacing a simple call or text, is location tracking.
Sounds ridiculous, and many argue a breach of privacy – but kids, you’re living under my roof – If I wanna know where you are, I’ll check.
But in our house, we made it really simple. We are not tracking the kids – we’re all sharing our locations. Mum, Dad, Children, Granny, Grandad – you open the app, everyone can see where everyone else is.
It creates a transparency around location tracking, and shows that there’s nothing to hide. If anything, it’s been the best thing for us all. No annoying calls “have you left work yet” – just check and see! So simple.
Time limits on your child’s smartphone usage.
Going back to your rules, these are important that they are enforced.
Let the limits slip on weekends or the holidays, but primarily – strict on the rules.
For Apple devices, sign up everyone in the family to an AppleID – and setup Family Sharing. This allows parents to approve App downloads, any purchases and importantly control Screen Time Settings.
You can set limits on types of apps, say Gaming, or Entertainment, but most importantly even with no actual limits set, you can see what apps they are using.
This allows you to have a chat about the amount of time being spent on one app or another.
And, take advantage of “Downtime” – this allows you to set hours during which the phone is really useless to a teenager, no apps work unless you’ve approved them, and they can wind down away from their phone. It’s a game changer.
Peer Pressure and Bad Parenting Vibes.
“But that kid has a new iPhone”. “He’s allowed his phone in bed”.
For every rule you make, another child will not have that rule, and that’s ok, that’s how they do it in their house. Choose your rules, live by them.
Some people will think you’re a bad parent for being so strict, You’ll think others are bad for doing something they do. It doesn’t matter. Don’t crack under pressure.
Mistakes – you will make them so will your kids
Your kids will stuff up, they will break the rules, intentionally or not. You need to accept this, not over-react, and just learn from every instance. This is a long, tough road. Don’t make it a sprint.
Don’t just do – always talk.
All the contracts in the world, all the tracking and limiting apps in the world won’t help if you aren’t talking about it.
Ask what they’re up to, talk about what they’re doing, set the rules together as a family, make sure that conversations form part of your approach, this means your kids might be more likely to talk about things they see online, that might be really important for you to know.