Children & Smartphones: How to Encourage Boundaries and Safe Use

In the last few decades, technology has taken on an increasing role in our daily lives. Kids today are born and raised by technology, and often they are more tech-savvy than their parents. However, as parents, it is your responsibility to ensure that your children are protected and safe when using technology. Having their own phone can be a lifeline for your children; it allows them to reach you when they needed and for a lot of children getting their first phone is seen as a milestone. That being said, it also allows them to access the internet without you, which is not always wise. Read on for all the information you need to make an informed decision. 

The Right Age to Give a Child Their First Phone

An increasing number of electronic devices are marketed toward children as their target demographic, and some of them even claim to help your children developmentally. Depending on the device and its use, they can definitely help your children to learn. That being said, if the device can access the internet, then children should not be left to play with them unsupervised because accessing the internet requires a certain level of maturity on your child’s part in order to ensure that they are making smart and safe choices. 

The age at which you should give your child their first phone has long since been debated; some parents see no issue with it and give children as young as seven or eight a smartphone. However, for the most part, people tend to give their children a phone when they reach secondary school. This is because the secondary school is often further away and the children start taking themselves to or from school either by walking or going on the bus. Therefore, it makes sense for them to have a phone. 

The Importance of Internet Safety 

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of website designers, business owners and even the police, the internet can be a lawless and unscrupulous place. It affords users a certain level of anonymity which they can hide behind or use to construct new, false identities. This is, in part, why teaching your children how to be safe on the internet is so important. Anyone can find the things that they share, so if they share personal information like where they go to school or the town that they live in, they could be making themselves a target. 

They also shouldn’t be interacting with people they don’t know because they won’t necessarily be who they say they are. Internet challenges, as witnessed on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, can be dangerous and lead to serious injuries. Finally, the internet can be an unkind place; when they are shielded by a computer screen, people can say cruel things that they would never be able to say to someone’s face, which is largely where trolling has come from. Your children need to be prepared for everything that they may face or encounter online, and they need to be mature enough to deal with it. 

Teaching Boundaries & Responsibilities

If you are allowing your child to have a phone, then you have to have a certain level of trust in them to do the right thing. If you want to teach them boundaries through mobile phone use, then you need to be willing to learn some yourself. This means not spying on them or what they are doing on their phone. Of course, you can go through the phone with them to see what they have been doing on it, but it should be a discussion where you make sure to communicate that doing this is for their safety.

You should set out your expectations before you give your child a phone. What do you expect them to do with it? Are there any apps or sites that they are not allowed to download or visit? You might be able to install some parental controls on the phone to stop them from accessing them. When can they use the phone, are they allowed to take it to school with them just in case they need something from you while they are there? This might mean that if they are caught on their phones in lessons that they are grounded or their phone is confiscated. When can they use their phones at home? These are all rules that need to be established too. 

Choosing the Right Phone

There are a few things to think about when choosing the right phone for your child. Firstly, the contract. You could go for a monthly contract which is often more expensive but does include the cost of a handset in the monthly bill, which might work although children can be a little careless. Additionally, under a monthly contract, you will still have to pay for the handset even if it is rendered unusable. 

There are also pay-as-you-go sims which are relatively cheap and can be popped into any old handset you have lying around. Again, they are cheap to pick up, but they need topping up regularly at the shop, which can be grating; your child may also run out of credit if they overuse the phone, which means that they won’t be able to get a hold of you until the phone is topped up again. 

Finally, SIM-only plans represent the best of both worlds. Only the sim is covered, which means it can go in any phone. The contracts tend to roll over month to month, which means they are fairly low commitment, but your child won’t run out of credit. Lebara offer a number of plans, and you don’t need a credit check to apply; you can learn more about their SIM-only plans at their site.

When choosing a handset for your child, there are a few things you need to think about. Firstly, you should consider what the handset is capable of. Does it do everything it needs to? You should then consider how sturdy the phone is; some of them are more prone to breaking than others, so they should definitely be avoided. You could also invest in a robust case and a screen protector too; this can help to make sure that the phone will last. Finally, you should consider the storage space on the phone. This will affect the things that the phone has room for, like photos, videos, messages and apps. 

Final Words

Obviously, the decision to provide your child with a smartphone comes down to you, they’re your kids, and you know them best. You need to feel like you can trust them, that they are going to be responsible enough to have a phone. You should never feel pressured one way or another; if all of your friends’ kids have phones or don’t shouldn’t come into it. Encouraging safe internet use is vital, as is establishing boundaries. The best way to do this is to enter into an open and honest conversation with your kids. They need to feel like they can trust you too; otherwise, they aren’t going to come to you and tell you things because they think that you’ll react negatively. 

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