Giving a smartphone to a child or young person means handing over a big privilege and substantial amount of responsibility. That is why it’s best to establish a clear set of rules to manage a child’s mobile phone use, avoid unexpected expenses and to prevent harm.
It might be more difficult to establish mobile phone rules if your child already uses their device without any restrictions. But even in this case it can be beneficial to have a conversation about online safety and to set some boundaries.
Craft a written smartphone agreement that both you and your child have to sign. It can help to maintain oversight and discussing the agreement will also give you an opportunity to explain the rules to your child.
How much screen time is too much screen time? There is no settled view on this. However, screen time shouldn’t interfere with a child’s school work, sleep and face-to-face social interactions. Looking at bright mobile phone screens before bedtime can also have a negative effect on children’s sleep.
What can you do as a parent?
Make sure that your child understands the importance of strong passwords and of keeping them secret.
Agree with your child to set their social media profiles on private. Make clear to them that they shouldn’t accept friend or follow requests from people who they don’t know. Explain why this is important for their safety and help them to adjust the settings.
Have a conversation about what they can share online and what shouldn’t be shared. Discuss with them the contents of written posts, photos and videos. Help them to understand that things on the internet are never really private and cannot be deleted easily.
Make clear to your child that they should respect others just the same way as in the offline world. Explain to them that there is always a real person behind the screen and it’s important to be considerate of their feelings.
If a child wants to post a picture of someone else, they should ask for that person’s permission first. This rule also applies to you! Be a good role model and ask your child for permission if you want to post a picture of them online.
Ask your child which apps, games or websites they like or would like to use. Explore them together and decide which are appropriate for their age. Try to stay positive in your approach, but explain your concerns if applicable.
It might be necessary to have occasional reviews of your agreed list. Your child might get to know new platforms through their friends that you might find are not suitable for them. Be prepared to discuss your reasoning. Online reviews and age ratings can aid your decisions. For example, Facebook and Instagram are not designed for children younger than 13.
If you have a contract with limited data, you might want to explain to your child how to reduce their data usage and encourage them to use Wi-Fi whenever possible. Disabling the option to download paid apps and to make in-app purchases can also save you from unexpected expenses.
Familiarise yourself with mobile phone rules that might apply at your child’s school.
Explain the risks of talking to strangers online. It might be useful to share online grooming tactics with your child to help them identify potential predators. Show understanding that it can be exciting to get to know people on the internet, but also emphasise that they need to be very careful and should never meet up with anyone they haven’t met face-to-face before.
Make sure that they know how to block and report people who bother them.
Reassure your child that you understand how exciting the internet is and encourage them to tell you about their online adventures. Tell them that they can always come to you if something worries them.
However, your child could also encounter problems which they won’t want to discuss with you. Give them the option of confiding in another trusted adult or give them contacts to a helpline such as Childline.