Are your children at the age where they want or need a digital device of their own? Whether they need a phone for emergencies or a laptop for homework after school, it’s time to have the digital device talk.
As technology evolves and we all use it more than ever, it’s even more important to teach your children how to use it in a safe and responsible way.
The interest isn’t going anywhere, so the best thing you can do is show your children how to use it to their advantage. Now, even toddlers seem to immediately know how to use apps, so it’s never too early to start discussing guidelines and what’s suitable for your child according to their age and maturity. Get these rules in place while your children are young so they can grow up with a healthy attitude to mobile devices and the internet.
If your children are older, it’s not too late. They can still benefit from an ongoing conversation and safe internet use.
Decide When Your Child Gets A Smartphone Or Tablet
Many parents are choosing to give their children phones at a younger age than before. However, it’s maturity that really matters, rather than age. Nobody but you can decide when the right time is to give your child a device of their own, whether it’s a laptop, a tablet, the latest smartphone, or a budget phone with a Sim-only plan from SMARTY UK. Generally the later you can wait the better, as devices can be a distraction from homework, while also exposing children to online bullying, grooming, and other dangers.
To decide if your child is ready for their own device, you should ask yourself a few questions:
- Can they usually be trusted to look after and keep track of their own belongings, or are they always dropping, losing, or forgetting their things?
- Do they follow your rules without arguments, and follow your directions in other areas of their life?
- Are they familiar with the concept of photo editing, and do they understand that what they see online might not be a realistic depiction of real life?
- Do you trust them to keep up an open conversation with you about the internet and what they do with it?
Sign A Contract
You need to make sure that your children take what you agree with them about their use of technology seriously, whether it’s screen time or what websites they can use. To make sure they’re taking it seriously, it can help to create a contact about their smartphone and internet use. This contract might include some points such as you having to have access to their device passwords, them asking for permission before they download anything, which hours the device can be used between, and what activities can be done on the device. Create this contract and talk about what you’re putting into it and why. Make it a collaborative effort and explain the purpose is to keep them safe, not to stop them from having fun or because you don’t trust them. Sign the contract together. You can use it as a conversation starter so you know they understand why these rules have been put in place. Let your child ask questions about the rules if they have any, and be willing to negotiate, so the contract doesn’t feel unreasonable to them.
Discuss The Dangers
It might feel hard to talk about the dangers that can be lurking on the internet, but it is important that you do have this conversation. Your children need to know what they should and should not share online and why. There are a few key points that you should make sure that you cover during this conversation:
- They should never give away any personal information, such as which school they go to, to people that they don’t know in real life. Tell them never to post their location publicly.
- Explain that people aren’t always who they say they are on the internet. Someone they meet on social media and speak to for months could be anyone and could be lying about their identity.
- Explain that social media is not reality and is just a highlight reel of people’s lives. Remind them that everybody has bad days, but they don’t usually talk about them on social media. Just because someone’s life appears to be perfect on social media, that doesn’t mean it really is.
- Make sure they know to treat everyone online with respect. They shouldn’t ever engage in online bullying, like name-calling or rude conversations. They shouldn’t post anything, whether a photo, video, or comment, that could end up hurting someone’s feelings.
- Explain what to do if someone, even a friend or a family member, is making them feel uncomfortable online. Let them know that they should come to you and tell you about it as soon as this happens. Explain that you will discuss together what to do about the situation, and reassure them that you won’t make any decisions about it without getting their input.
- Talk to them about the kind of photos that they post. They should know never to post nude pictures or anything that could be seen as suggestive, even if they are sending these pictures to someone that they know and trust. Discuss the possibility of what could happen if photos like that were stolen or shared without their permission.
Lead By Example
The best way to encourage responsible behavior online is to demonstrate the kind of behavior you want to see yourself. Show your children what you want them to do online and with their devices by modeling it yourself. For example, if you want the children to turn their phones off at the dinner table, you should too. Leave your phone outside of your bedroom, never check your phone while you’re driving, and make sure that what you post online is respectful. If you’re can’t follow your own rules, then you can’t expect your children to follow them either.
As part of your contract that you wrote together, you may agree that you will have to be friends with or follow each other on social media. However, even if you decide that you don’t want to enforce this rule, remember that your child or one of their friends could find and look at one of your social media profiles at any time. To make sure they don’t anything there that you’d rather they didn’t, it’s a good idea to spend some time going through your profiles and cleaning them up a bit. Remove any rude or disrespectful comments, and take down any pictures or posts that you find hard to explain to your child. Put yourself in their shoes, and remove anything that could be embarrassing to them. Other children could use your embarrassing posts, such as photos of them when they were small, as a way to make fun of your child.
You will find it a lot easier to enforce your technology rules if you’re committed to following the rules yourself. Of course, you might different hours for smartphone use and other slightly different rules to your children, but having some measures and guidelines in place is good for everyone.
Use Parental Controls
No matter how well-behaved and obedient your children are and what you agree on in the contract, sometimes the temptation to check a notification or reply to a message when they’re not supposed to might be too much. You can take away that temptation and make your job as a parent a lot easier by using some parental controls on your child’s devices.
Don’t put these controls in place without their knowledge and don’t use them to spy. This is a breach of your child’s trust and can invade their privacy. Instead, use these controls to block internet access or certain apps during set hours so your child can focus at school and get to sleep without distraction. You can block certain sites or categories of sites. A lot of adult-oriented sites can be easily accessed by kids if they just lie about their age, so block them instead.
Never underestimate how easily even very young children can figure out how to use mobile devices. Even if you think your child is too young for the internet, remember that an environment of responsible internet usage is something they will notice, even while they’re young. If your children grow up seeing you using your devices responsibly, it will feel more natural for them to do the same when they are old enough for devices of their own.
When you start the conversation early about how to safely use the internet, mobile devices, and other technology, you will find it much easier to maintain an open and natural line of communication between the two of you. You won’t have to force these conversations when your child has grown up enough to want their own device. No matter how old your child is, start talking about responsible tech use now.