Smartphones are now seen as an almost essential component in the way we communicate with each other and the world around us, and that’s just for the adults! An increasing number of children now have access to a range of digital devices including smartphones. Whether that is spending time using a parent’s smartphone or for older children having their own phone. One of the topics we get asked about most when we talk to parents about helping their kids stay safe online, is how to manage the use of smartphones by kids.
One of the first pieces of advice we offer is that confiscation just does not work. It is in fact counter productive and can lead to children of all ages taking every opportunity to use a smartphone when they are not under your supervision, at a friend’s house or being looked after by a relative for example. Instead of confiscation it’s best to try active mediation, which essentially means communicating openly with your child about the concerns you have about the amount of time they are spending using their phone, or the content they are accessing when they are on online via the phone. Promote and encourage the importance of the use of balance when it comes to technology. Spending too much time on any digital device is not a good idea for an adult or a child. One idea that may be helpful in managing time spent on smartphones is to have a designated time period each day, say 20 minutes to half an hour where your child is allowed to spend time on their phone and then after that time they must engage in other activities that don’t include their phone. This may be more of a challenge with older children and teens who can appear to never be off their phones!
With older children it’s easier to have more detailed conversation about the importance of balance and also about the long-term implications of consistently relying on a smartphone to communicate and share content with their peers. There is no substitute for human contact and face to face communication. It’s crucial that these skills are developed from a young age and are continually improved on too. Talk with your teen about the importance of spending face to face time with family and friends and also linked to this encourage a sense of perspective when it comes to what they see online or via messaging apps they use on their phone.
Another element of managing the use of smartphones by kids is how much freedom to allow them when it comes to using a smartphone. For younger children it is of course absolutely appropriate that you as their parent will regularly check the online activity on the smartphones in your home. Regularly updating the safety settings on smartphones is sensible but as we always say at Zeeko these settings are a great first step, but they are never 100% secure. Having regular conversations with your child about making smart choices when they are online is just as important as a safety setting. For teens the balance between privacy and monitoring can be a little more challenging to deal with. Again, communication is key when it comes to this. If your teen understands that your need to monitor their smartphone use is coming from a place of concern for their welfare. Currently and in the future that is a great place to start from.