Congratulations and condolences. Now what?
It’s time to do more research, make sure the phone is set up properly for your child, and then have many conversations with him or her before and after you hand over the digital keys to the cellphone kingdom.
First, parents need to decide if their child should have a dumb phone or a smartphone. If the decision is to go with a phone unable to go online, moms and dads can tell their kid that they will only have talk and text ability to begin their phone journey. Parents may want their child’s first phone without internet capabilities for many reasons:
• Children won’t be tempted to surf the web since they won’t have a browser.
• Kids won’t have access to any apps, which takes a big chunk of the worry equation away from parents.
• No chance of kids going over data limits.
• Much lower cost of replacement if the phone is broken.
• Many dumb phones have decent cameras and are fairly indestructible, which is great for younger children.
Parents may decide to start with a smartphone because mom is upgrading, or dad wants everyone on the same family sharing plan. If a smartphone is the way to go, make sure to prep the phone properly before handing it over.
For iOS: Set up Restrictions. Go to Settings/General/Restrictions. Type in a PIN. Only you as the parent will have the ability to turn on or off nearly any feature on an iPhone. Turn off location services for most things so no one — except you — is tracking your child’s locations. You may want to start by not allowing your child to download any apps, disabling the web browser and banning explicit and mature content. Parental controls on iOS are fairly comprehensive and user-friendly.
For Android: Go to Settings/Users/Add user. Then create a specific user account to decide whether or not to allow internet access and the App Store, and filter content. Some Android phone manufacturers also offer software to help with parental controls.
If parents want more robust features, a third-party app may be the answer. Parents may also choose the option of buying parental control services from their wireless carrier. These are add-on packages to help parents monitor usage, set limits and track phones for an extra fee.
Finally, parents should talk with their child about rules that will go into effect if they are privileged enough to use a cellphone. It’s really tough to backtrack and try to set rules after kids have already had free rein with a phone. Set up guidelines and sign a contract before kids ever get their hands on that shiny new gadget. Make up the rules — and the consequences — together. Children will understand and follow those rules much better if they are part of the process.
LifeLock and the National PTA have made the whole child/parent tech contract process easier. They collaborated on an interactive contract building website that anyone can use. Some ideas of responsibilities for the child:
• My parents will know the pass code to the phone and may check it at any time.
• I will always answer a text or phone call from a parent.
• I will never respond to unknown numbers.
• I understand these could be spam and may cause all sorts of problems.
• I agree to plug my phone in by ___ o’clock every school night and by ___ o’clock on the weekends in my parents’ bedroom.
• I understand and will obey my school’s cellphone rules.
• I may face consequences at home as well as at school if I break these rules.
• I am aware of my text/talk/data limits and will be responsible for any cost associated with going over those limits.
• I will be responsible for repairing or replacing a lost or damaged phone.
• I will never text, post or take a photo or video of anything I wouldn’t want on a neighborhood billboard or broadcast at a school assembly.
Some responsibilities for the parent:
• I will make an effort to stay up to date on technology and will thoughtfully research any questions or requests my child has concerning apps, texting and the web.
• I will listen calmly and discuss any concerns my child has regarding bullying or inappropriate content issues on their phone.
A child should agree to these and any other terms a parent feels necessary before having the privilege of using a cellphone. Kids should understand a parent can take phone privileges away if any rules are broken. The whole family tech experience will go much more smoothly if the newest phone user knows the expectations and possible consequences before ever taking their first selfie.