Your Child’s First Smartphone

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Kids all over the U.S. are wishing for their first smart device this holiday season, whether it’s a phone, tablet, computer or even watch. Whatever it is, it comes ready to keep them ultra-connected to existing friends, new friends and, potentially, strangers.

Are your kids ready to manage that? Are you ready to lean in and coach them? As you set up your child’s device for optimum connectedness and safety, consider taking these steps.

Sign a “Family Social Standards” agreement. This type of contract typically requires only the child to sign it and, again typically, focuses on what this child agrees not to do on social media. Consider an agreement the whole family signs around high standards everyone — even parents — agrees to live up to online.

Install the “Ask to Buy” feature. If all of your devices are from Apple, use the Family Sharing and Ask to Buy features. That way, whenever your child initiates the purchase of a download on his or her device, you’ll be notified on yours, where you can review the request and either accept or decline it. Your child literally must ask to buy something from iTunes, like an app, book or movie, or to make an in-app purchase (like bonus game levels or ad removal).

Turn off group text notifications. Texting with large groups of people is especially popular with middle school students. Let’s say your child’s soccer team is having one text conversation and her biology class study group is having another. That’s a lot of people … and a lot of notifications. Turn them off for each group individually. On iPhones, tap the “i” in the top right-hand corner of the group text and choose “Do Not Disturb.”

Show your child the nighttime light setting. The blue light of most smartphones can block the release of melatonin, the hormone that controls a person’s sleep cycle. So, most smart devices now come with a night mode option — Apple calls it Night Shift mode, Windows calls it Light Night and some Android phones simply call it Night Mode. It can be found in the device’s settings area, usually in the display or brightness section. Whether nighttime light settings actually promote better sleep is still being studied, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends no screen time for an hour before bedtime.

Include a “Strike-a-Balance” gift package. Make sure your child is set up for success as he learns how to strike a balance with his new, connected device.

  • Purchase an alarm clock — Your child doesn’t need a smart-anything to get up in time for school, and experts say she will sleep much better if her new device is recharging in another room.
  • Consider purchasing a landline and phone (if you don’t already have one) — What if there’s an emergency? Installing a landline solves that problem. Bonus: Landlines are known to be more reliable than cellphones and smartphones. Remind your child to keep the landline number private and to share it only with family, extended family and maybe her best friend.
  • Use Bluetooth speakers for bedtime music. Does your child need music to fall asleep to? Stream it from his device (that should not be in his bedroom) to a Bluetooth speaker (that should be in his bedroom).

A phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer all make great holiday presents, but gift-givers typically operate under the assumption that gift-receivers will be responsible about owning and operating such devices. Make sure your child isn’t overwhelmed by the capabilities and that she is ready to strike a balance with this new device in her life.

Laura Tierney is founder and president of The Social Institute, which teaches students positive ways to handle one of the biggest drivers of their social development: social media.


Categories: Kids + Media, Parenting, Solutions, Technology