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San Antonio Mom Blogs is excited to bring you a series of guest posts by San Antonio mom Mandy Majors, founder of nextTalk, which advocates for open communication between parents and their kids regarding cyber bullying, social media, sex, technology, and everything in-between. You can see our first post with nextTalk and Mandy Majors here.
This month’s nextTalk topic: at what age should my child get a smartphone?
At what age should my child get a cell phone?
Let me start by saying — I respect each person’s choice to parent the way they choose. My goal, and nextTalk’s goal is to open up the discussion and provide you with some ideas. For me and my husband, saying “no” to all technology didn’t make sense. It’s here to stay. So, instead of debating the moral question of, “Should kids even be allowed to have cell phones?” we decided to live in the here and now. Most kids have cell phones. Our middle school allows cell phones during lunch, before/after school, and, in some classes, with teacher approval. So, instead of fighting the norm, we made a conscious decision to teach ourselves how to parent with cell phones in mind.
First of all, parenting your child with a cell phone is a great responsibility. Please don’t take it lightly. It will require more work on your part. If you are ready for the extra load, then you need to decide if your child is ready.
The answer to the question of whether or not your child is ready for the responsibility that comes with a cell phone is first and foremost: each child is different. You know your child better than anyone.
Here are my steps, to help you determine if your child is ready to have a cell phone:
First, ask, “Are we ready for a cell phone?”
Discuss with your spouse/co-parent. Why does your child need a cell phone? Is it for after-school activities? Does your child’s school allow cell phones (If so, the majority of kids will have them so if your child has a cell phone, you have more control because you can teach them to use it.)? Is your child trustworthy? Does your son or daughter hide things from you? From my observations, families generally start asking these questions around 5th or 6th grade (Again, this is a gray area and looks different for everyone. There is no right or wrong answer on the age a child should be when they receive their first cell phone.).
Second, if you believe your child is ready, I advocate a cell phone contract.
Here are some examples of items to be included in that contract, without limitation:
- No screens in bathrooms or bedrooms.
- Phone check-in each night (time varies depending on our schedule).
- No screens during meals.
- No app downloads without parent approval.
- Must report inappropriate pics/videos, texts, etc. No bullying.
- No communication with people you do not know in real life.
- Parents check anything at anytime. Don’t expect privacy with a cell phone.
(San Antonio Mom Blogs’ contributor, Sara Phillips with SensiblySara.com, shared her son’s cell phone contract with us. You can view and print her sample of a family cell phone contract here.)
Third, I recommend not allowing social media apps at first.
Have your child start out with texts and games only. In the beginning, my child could also use Facetime with friends (when she’s in an open area of the house – family room, kitchen, etc). Her phone also has calling capability, but that’s not cool anymore. Ha! Once you get comfortable with this, then you can think about adding a social media platform (such as Instagram, Musical.ly, etc.). But, that comes with a whole new set of suggestions and family guidelines!
Make sure your restrictions are set on the phone. Here’s how to find them on an iPhone. Go to:
- “Enable Restrictions” and create a 4-digit passcode (do not give this to your children). Scroll down. You can turn music from “explicit” to “clean”. Movies & TV shows can be rated (I’ve got mine set to PG). Apps can be restricted (I’ve got mine set to 12+). Siri and websites can also be restricted to limit adult content.
Please note though, these restriction settings will not catch anything inappropriate within an app. For example, even though my daughter’s restrictions are set, porn has popped up on her Instagram. The phone restrictions didn’t catch it within the app.
A note about apps/products that supposedly monitor kids’ activity, I tend to shy away from them. Here’s why:
- I can’t find a reliable product that actually monitors everything. Most children communicate within apps (using the DM feature – direct messages – in Instagram or Twitter), and I can’t find a product that allows you to monitor within apps.
- If I could completely mirror my child’s cell phone on my phone and actually see everything, I would do it (especially when they’re first getting used to using their cell phone). BUT, by doing that alone, it doesn’t teach our kids how to actually use a cell phone safely and appropriately. I believe we need to have a both/and approach: monitor and teach. We need to teach our children how to use a cell phone by setting boundaries, guidelines, and expectations, just like when we teach them how to swim, ride a bike, etc.
Continually talk to your child: while in the car, during meals, everywhere. Continually talk about expectations and guidelines with regard to technology. Be in their online world.
How do we monitor what our kids are doing online and not feel that we are overstepping their privacy?
Each family may choose to monitor their child’s online habits different. And, that’s perfectly okay. Your family, your choice. But, here’s what I tell my tween: Your phone is not a diary. Do not expect privacy. Anything you type, text, post, snap, etc. can be screenshot and made available to the world in a second. Also, we pay the bill and we purchased the phone so we can have access at anytime.
Now, I will add a note here. I’m in my daughter’s online world. I follow her on Instagram, and I follow many of the other students at her school. My personal rule is not to comment or like her friends’ posts. I don’t make a scene. I also don’t post a picture of her on Instagram without her approval (because many of her friends follow me too). I give her space. She posts on her own, and I trust her (or she wouldn’t have a social media account). But, I’m monitoring. Always.
Up next on San Antonio Mom Blogs with Mandy Majors and nextTalk: Which apps should parents be most concerned about right now?
Mandy Majors grew up in a divorced home in a small Indiana town and she was a rebellious teenager who learned life the hard way. She overcame the bad decisions and managed to graduate from Indiana University. She has now been happily married to her best friend, Matt, for 17 years. They’re raising two children in a quaint little community north of San Antonio, Texas, where vehicles stop to let goats and deer cross the road. Mandy has a deep love for her family (her most important job is wife and mom) and has a passion for discussing t(w)een issues with other moms in the MomTalk group she founded in 2013 and through nextTalk, the group she founded in 2016. She hates coffee and is a recovering Diet Coke addict. True story. If we’re being honest, she still cheats on the Diet Coke thing. You can connect with Mandy on Twitter and with nextTalk on Facebook.