Buying children mobile devices this holiday season? You’re in good company. Fifty-three percent of children own a smartphone by age 11, and 84 percent of teenagers have their own phones, according to Common Sense Media.
While there are many great benefits to being digitally connected at a young age, there are certain issues families should address. Once the dust settles after your child receives their gift, consider these suggestions for safer, more responsible mobile device use:
1) Discuss Privilege and Trust. Have a casual, open-ended chat about the privilege and responsibilities of device ownership. Ask questions about whether their friends own devices, and what they’re most excited to use it for.
2) Set Clear Agreements. Setting clear rules about device usage is essential. Depending on your child’s age, you may agree that the device only to be used for certain purposes (for example: contacting you, FaceTiming relatives, doing homework). Even with older kids and teens, it’s important to discuss appropriate online behavior, healthy digital habits and “screen etiquette.” Consider putting together a “contract” to be displayed somewhere visible.
3) Buy a Protective Case and Warranty. Devices are easy to lose or break — especially by kids. Consider buying a durable case and screen protector as additional presents, and definitely purchase a warranty through your carrier or a third party. Finally, make sure you have a location monitoring app installed on your child’s device, which offers peace of mind, saves headaches coordinating pickups and can help you locate lost devices in a pinch.
4) Download a Parental Guidance App. Download a parental guidance app onto your own device, such as OurPact, which allows you to install a simple profile on your child’s device. Then, you can remotely set up automated schedules for when internet and apps are unavailable, or block access manually to the device for a specified period of time. With such features as URL whitelisting and blacklisting, daily screen time allowances and iMessage/SMS blocking, you can be engaged with how your child uses their device, letting you enjoy the peace of mind knowing they aren’t playing Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja past bedtime when they should be snoozing. Available at the iOS App Store and Google Play Store, parents can also sign up for an account at www.ourpact.com.
5) Screen Applications for Quality. Make sure all apps installed on your child’s device pass your approval. It’s good practice to have the App Store blocked using a tool like OurPact. This way, when your child wants to install a new app, you can research it together.
6) Practice What You Preach! Kids are more likely to respond to actions over words, so make sure that you’re setting a good example. Don’t send emails at the dinner table. Never text and drive. Make eye contact when you talk. Last but not least: always put relationships — especially with your children — before devices.
For a joyful holiday season, be sure any gift of a digital device is used safely and responsibly by the recipient.