As our children kick into “wish list” overdrive this holiday season, it isn’t uncommon for them to ask for every new toy or gadget on the market. No matter what holiday you celebrate, many of our sons and daughters will be receiving a gift in the upcoming weeks. Last week’s Parenthetical post discussed the benefits of using technology to connect with those at a distance. This week’s article provides parents with suggestions about how to help young adults use this technology appropriately.

While we can’t predict the new “it” toy of the season, at the top of many children’s list is a smartphone. Before sneaking a phone under the tree or wrapping up eight crazy nights, it’s important to consider if your child can handle the responsibility of owning a smartphone and prepare your family for the high levels of connectivity this gift offers.

How To Decide If Your Child Is Smartphone Ready?

If your child is begging for their very own smartphone this year, it is important to consider your child’s level of responsibility before placing a smartphone under the tree. Given that 75% of kids under the age of 8 have “smart” device access and 78% of teens already own cell phones, it is easy to assume our children have the skills necessary to handle this technology.

Our children might be able to swipe and tap their way through a myriad of apps, but unfortunately, not be able to handle the responsibility of maintaining digital citizenship.

It’s important to ask yourself the following questions before gifting a smartphone to a child this holiday season:

  • Does my child take care of his or her possessions?
  • Can she or he make sound judgment calls?
  • Is my son or daughter able to understand the long-term impact of having a social media presence?
  • Have we had a discussion regarding social media etiquette?

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6 Ways To Ensure A Merry Season For All

If you were able to answer the majority of the four questions with a “yes”, then your child might be ready for a smartphone. As parents, it is not easy giving our kids the world at their fingertips. We need to be prepared before our children unwrap the world of disappearing messages, online predators, oversharing, and cyberbullies.

Listed below are six suggestions to make this story book image a reality long after the holidays come to an end:

  • Understand the common dangers children will be exposed to on the Internet and social media. Technology is great, but it does open our kids up to a variety of problems. Did you know that the rates of cyberbullying has tripled recently or that many experts now consider sexting a normal part of child development? It is important to know realistically what to expect, so we can enable our sons and daughters to avoid these pitfalls. To learn more about Internet safety, please check out Parenthetical’s series on cyberbullying including posts on prevention and ways to respond.
  • Create a technology contract for your family. Prepare a written document that states all the expectations and consequences that come with owning or using technology like smartphones. Make sure to include the amount of time a child can use their phone daily, where phones will be charged or stored at night, if phones are allowed at the dinner table, and include the role parents will play in modeling good behaviors or appropriate reprimanding if a child makes a mistake. To learn more, please check out this simple technology contract for the family.
  • In the beginning, help your child install appropriate privacy settings. It sounds simple, but many of our kids fail to use the correct privacy settings to keep themselves protected.
  • Begin an ongoing discussion regarding social media and the Internet. Make sure to include etiquette, permanence, online predators, cyberbullying, and sexting in your talks. Remind your child that the Internet never forgets.
  • Monitor your child’s cell phone and Internet activity. It is estimated that 70% of teens take measures to hide their online activity from parents! Be honest and let your child know that you will be checking in on them from time to time. In the beginning, let your child know that you will be following them on social media, monitoring their usage, and asking questions to help them safely navigate the digital world. For tips on effective monitoring, not spying, visit this infographic (from TeenSafe) for some great ideas and information on the process. As your child matures and demonstrates responsibility, you can scale back your monitoring efforts.
  • Develop “no phone” zones. This is as simple as keeping devices out of bedrooms and away from the family dinner table. By keeping technology in common living areas, you are reducing temptations and ensuring your child will be able to have down time from their Smartphone.

It’s easy to admit that many of us aren’t prepared for the upcoming holidays. Our to-do lists, program schedules, and family commitments might seem unending, but we can rest assured that we have the means to help our children safely snap selfies and scroll through social media posts into the new year.

 

Will you be giving your child a smartphone this year?


About the Author

Author_Amy_2Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. She believes that, in our digital age, it’s time for parents and educators to make sure parents and students alike are educated about technology and social media use, hoping to inform others through her writing. She is the mother of two teenaged boys.