It’s one of the most challenging dilemmas of modern parenting: what is the right age to allow a child to have a smartphone? Smartphones can undoubtedly open a whole new world to your child in very positive ways such as teaching them digital skills and new ways to use technology to communicate. However, there is another side to the introduction of a smartphone, children really do need to be mature enough to negotiate the online world in order to stay safe if they are using a smartphone. This is particularly true for children who are using a smartphone for the first time.
The first and most important thing to remember is that you know your own child better than anyone else. You are best able to gage their stage of development and level of maturity. Children can be very susceptible to peer pressure where wanting any digital device is concerned. Seeing their friends and peers get a phone and feeling that they too should and need to have one also. Pester power can undoubtedly come into play here too! Ultimately only you as a parent know when the time is right to consider allowing your child to have a smartphone, helping to ensure that they stay safe while using the phone is the next challenge.
It’s really never too early to start a conversation about staying safe online. Having regular open conversations about the importance of staying safe online from an early age is a good way to get a sense of how ready your child is to have a smartphone. Another way to test out how your child would handle having a smartphone, is to allow some time online on a smartphone under you or another adults supervision. Before they go online remind your child about the Stop, Block Tell Rule, and also about the T-Shirt Rule too. The T-Shirt rule is particularly effective in explaining the importance of being careful what children post online. Children particularly, if they have freedom online that is new to them, may easily forget that what they post online cannot be easily removed or permanently deleted. It’s very easy to get distracted by all the functions available on a smartphone even as an adult, so imagine how that could be distracting for a child.
Safety settings are now an integral part of smartphones, be they android or iPhone, make sure that you have activated these settings on all of the digital devices your children have access to. While safety settings are not a 100% guarantee of safety while online, they are certainly a good first step in helping to keep your child safe online.
If you do decide that your child is ready to have s a smartphone encourage them to use the phone under your supervision certainly for the first number of weeks. This will give you sense of the apps that they are using and the games that they like to play on the phone. This is often a learning process for both parent and child!
A smartphone can be the first introduction to the online world for children. It is up to you as their parent as to when you feel they are ready to negotiate their way through this world and have the maturity to stay safe while online.