The first phone has become a rite of passage for kids, but it can be a stressful time for parents.
In addition to caring for an expensive device, suddenly kids have a tool for private communications, a way to share things that you may not want them to share, and unfettered access to the Internet. Setting clear expectations and building good habits early on will make this particular parenting journey a little less bumpy.
Set house rules
Before you hand over the phone, sit down with your kids and outline your house rules.
• What are your plans to monitor their phone use? Be transparent so that they understand where they can and can't expect privacy.
• Do they need to ask before purchasing or installing apps? Hint: Yes, for middle school or younger.
• Are there data limits? What are they?
• What are the consequences for breaking rules?
• Create a written phone agreement with expectations clearly outlined.
Establish healthy usage habits
Teaching kids healthy habits requires a commitment from parents. Modeling healthy behavior helps kids follow suit.
• Set rules about phones at the dinner table, at family gatherings, etc. Some families use a drop-off basket.
• Create a charging station to hold all devices at bedtime. This gives kids a break, physically and emotionally. If your kids can’t be trusted to leave the phones on the chargers overnight, move them into your room.
• Schedule “down time.” Schedule phones to be silent during school hours, meal times, and bedtime. This removes the temptation for kids to look at their phones when they know they shouldn’t.
Put their safety first
You've taught your kids to look both ways before crossing the street, not to touch a hot stove, and not to get into cars with strangers. Phone safety rules aren’t any different. Kids won’t know unless someone tells them, so don’t assume they’ll figure it out on their own. These basic safety guidelines are a good foundation:
• Keep connections, chats, and other relationships to people you know in person. It’s too easy to pretend to be someone you’re not online and over the phone.
• Tell an adult if someone says/does something that makes you uncomfortable.
• Keep personal/private info private. Don’t share your full name, birthday, address, school, or any other information that can allow someone to find you.
• Assume that your phone can and will be monitored for your safety.
• Never text while driving, but also while bike riding, walking, or doing other things that require your attention.
Respect yourself and others
People often say or do things online that they wouldn’t do in person, but it’s important for kids to understand that they hold the same responsibility online as they do off.
• Be kind. Don’t engage in bullying, including spreading rumors or lies about other people.
• Be mindful. Don’t say things you wouldn’t say in person. Information you put out there can’t be taken back.
• Keep it clean. Don’t request or send naked or scantily clad photos. Those can easily fall into the wrong hands, and passing along inappropriate images can lead to criminal charges.
• If mom or dad texts, you reply. If they call, you answer.
Tech tips to protect your investment
In addition to keeping themselves safe, kids should know how to take good care of their devices.
• Use a strong case and a screen protector.
• Only download reputable apps.
• Just like online, avoid clicking on unknown links and ads that may contain viruses and other malware.
• Put your phone down while eating, drinking, using the bathroom, and any other situation where it can be damaged.
• Follow school rules in terms of phone usage.
• Notify your parents immediately if the phone is damaged, lost, or stolen.
Owning a phone is fun, but it comes with great responsibility. Helping your kids navigate these new waters is just another step in helping them on the path to being wonderful adults.
Christy Matte is a Boston-based writer and contributor for Xfinity Mobile. She has been covering tech for the past decade or so but has been enamored with it her whole life. Christy has two Minecraft-obsessed kids, a software engineer husband, a crazy cat who thinks she's a dog, and a hedgehog who just barely tolerates them all.