Since writing Raising Kids in a Screen-saturated World, I have had many conversations with parents about issues with children and smartphones. The conversations often include a level of regret from parents. They wish they would have been more proactive in what having a phone would look like for their child. In these conversations, three topics surface with regularity.
These imperative topics I call the 3Cs. They are Confidentiality, Conditions, and Costs.
Parents can avoid regret and conflict by addressing these topics early. The best plan is to have these talks before you give your child their own smartphone. However, if you have already given your child a smartphone, don’t worry! You will find help here, it is never too late to have these conversation. In fact they may be more necessary now than ever before.
Confidentiality is a big issue. For our purposes, confidentiality is about privacy and hiding, both of which can lead to unhelpful and even dangerous realities for your child. So parents must talk about it.
Establish first that privacy is a thing of the past. Children must understand that their activity on a device, including a password protected smartphone, is not private. Your child’s activity on their phone is discoverable and recoverable.
The conversation about confidentiality should include a discussion about privacy and hiding. The scope of your parenting includes your child’s personal activity with their smartphones. Access to your child’s phones is a parental responsibility. Establish ways you will engage with them and their phones that is reasonable and respectful.
Teach them what wise interaction looks like with social media, texting, browsing, and app use. Help them understand the weight of sending something that can never be unsent. Instill in their thinking that even though they may feel a certain level of privacy it is a a penetrable illusion. Walk with them in understanding that hiding is a dangerous path.
This conversation is about limits and boundaries. The conversation about conditions answers questions regarding with whom your child gives their number. What social media apps will they use? Where will the phone be kept when not in use? Are there times or places that will be “no phone zones”? Should they have data limits? What will those limits be?
Parents and kids have expectations regarding conditions so it is best to have the conversation right away. This will set the course and help to avoid conflict that regularly arises on this issue. Remember you are the parent and this is a topic where your children need your guidance, even if they push back against it.
Parents must set the stage for what the conditions will look like. If your child really wants a social media app, and you feel it is reasonable, explore it with them. Engage it with them. Your involvement should be a regular condition to them having a phone. Your involvement should be positive as well. If your engagement only comes in the form of punishment or consequences, you are paving a path of resistance.
What are the expenses and how will your child be a part of them? Most kids will be added to their parent’s phone plan. It will be the most affordable option for everyone. However, just because they are being added to your plan doesn’t mean your child has no responsibility.
Getting a phone is a long-term decision. I have rarely heard of a kids who, after getting a smartphone, willingly reverts back to a cheaper non-data flip phone or no phone at all. So have a conversation about costs right from the start. This conversation helps you child avoid a sense of entitlement and allows them to view a phone as a privilege.
I encourage parents to give their children some skin in the game. Discussions about costs should be age and resource appropriate. If you have given your child a phone as a gift, discuss how and when they will begin contributing to the monthly cost. If you plan on paying for their full phone bill, talk about when that will change. Parents who have not had that conversation will often find that they are still paying for their son or daughter’s phone bill even after they have launched on their own.
Continuing the Conversations
Giving your child a smartphone opens up uncharted territory for most parents. If you have read this article you may have more questions on how to better engage your child regarding wise cellphone use. Maybe you haven’t given your child a phone and are wondering what is the appropriate right-of-passage age. Maybe you have concerns about guarding them from concerning issues like sexting or bullying. Or perhaps you want to learn more about how to wisely walk with them in this world where everyone carries a mini computer in their pocket.
These and other questions are answered in Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. It provides age appropriate questions to engage conversations with your child. You will also find plenty of other resources in the “for further reading” portion at the conclusion of the book. Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World is available from 10ofThose.com.