As the digital age booms, it seems like kids are getting cell phones at younger and younger ages each year. Today’s 30-year-olds didn’t get their first cell phone until they were teenagers or young adults. Yet it’s likely that you’ve seen more than one eight-year-old walking around with a cell phone these days. Whether you think that this new normal is good or not, the implications of this reality must be dealt with.
Because kids are getting access to phones at younger ages, phone safety is a serious issue. As tech use continues to be widespread amongst children, parents need to talk with their kids about phone safety. If you had different tech rules as a kid, or had little tech at all, the conversation can be daunting. However, like most big discussions about life’s more complicated aspects, there are things you can do to make it easier.
Here are five tips you should keep in mind as you discuss phone use with your children.
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1. Get Prepared for the Conversations
As soon as your child’s classmates start getting phones, it’s likely that your child will ask for one, too. For this reason, the discussions about cell phones should start early. Talk with your partner about when it seems right for your kid to get a cell phone. Discuss parameters and rules about cell phone use. Also, make sure to voice your concerns about cell phone use so that you can work together to figure out solutions.
There’s one more thing to discuss with your partner before you sit down with your child. The kind of cell phone to get is a key issue. Would you feel more comfortable if they get a safe phone for kids? Or are you ready to hand over a full-blown smartphone? Once you have answers to these questions, you’ll be ready to sit down and talk to your child.
Don’t be surprised though, if your child asks questions you haven’t thought of before. Apps and contemporary cell phone behavior change quickly. While knowing guidelines and rules ahead of time is helpful, there’s no way to prepare for everything. If your kid asks you a stumper, don’t be afraid to say that you’ll have to think about their question.
2. Let Your Kid Talk, Too
Any serious conversation you have with your kid should be one in which they’re able to talk as well. Communication is a two-way street, and your kid will probably have a lot to say about their first phone. They’ll be excited, they’ll have questions, and they may even get a little mad when you outline the rules. Regardless, they should have the chance to say what’s on their mind.
Once they start communicating their feelings and opinions, make sure it’s clear that you’re listening. Active listening is a skill, and it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, even parents. Make sure to avoid interrupting them, consider what they say, and respond to it thoughtfully.
If your kid is tight-lipped, ask questions to carry the conversation forward. Ask them the reasons why they want a phone. Do they want to call and message their friends? Do they like to play games, or are they developing an interest in social media already? Knowing their interests will help you gauge whether or not they’re ready for a phone.
3. Treat Your Kid With Respect
You won’t get anywhere in this conversation if you don’t treat your child with respect. They need to know that you believe their opinions matter. It’s true that depending on their age they can’t fully understand the dangers that come with a phone. However, that doesn’t mean that you should treat them with condescension.
For them, a phone is a shiny new toy with a whole new world of possibilities. If you explain the responsibility and danger, though, they’re more likely to follow the rules. Honesty is important here. Boundaries are good for kids, but rules can seem arbitrary or confusing if you don’t explain them.
Explain the dangers of having a phone at a young age. Help them understand how it could affect their life. For example, tell them how common mobile cyberbullying is among children and warn them about the repercussions. Your child will be more receptive to the conversation if they feel respected.
4. Back Up Your Points With Examples
Explaining cyberbullying is a good start to help your kid grasp the complexity of the world of cell phone use. However, you’ll want to use other information so that your kid truly understands why phone safety is so important. Your talking points should have solid examples and anecdotes.
If you don’t have examples to back up your claims about phone dangers, they might mean little to your kid. For example, explain to them how having a phone is like having the internet in their pocket. And while that might sound awesome, it can actually be perilous.
Essentially, you want to help your child understand why cell phones can be dangerous. While you don’t want to terrify your kid, you don’t want to keep them ignorant either. Consider using real-world examples of scammers and other criminals. Take their age into account during the discussion. You’ll need to decide which examples need some smoothing over and which require further explanation.
Sharing personal experiences may be another way to back up your points. Talk to them about your first phone. What did you learn when you were young? If you didn’t have a phone as a child, tell them about your current experiences using a cell phone. Explain to them how, even as an adult, phone dangers can still be scary.
5. Make Sure Your Kid Feels Loved
Kids sometimes feel like rules are put in place just to make their lives miserable. It’s not until they’re older that they realize that you were just looking out for them. This is why it’s important to make your kid feel loved throughout the discussion. Make it clear that your rules come from a place of caring and practicality.
At the end of a conversation, remember that your child may need reassurance that you’ll always be there for them. Tensions can run high, and it’s possible that your kid might be angry. Even if you’re angry, too, you want to express that your love isn’t conditional. It will be easier to have future conversations if they see that you can move on from the discussion.
Everything you do for your kid is out of love. Help them see that. If the discussion becomes explosive, consider taking a timeout. Since people use cell phones continuously, you should make sure that the door to the conversation about safety is always open. By expressing sympathy, kindness, and love, they’ll be more likely to talk to you if they have questions or concerns.
With smartphone use continually on the rise, cell phone safety measures will — one hopes — continue to improve. However, as long as there’s access to the internet, texting, or even gaming, cell phones will come with risk. That’s why it’s so crucial that parents talk to their kids about phone safety.
Discussions like these aren’t always easy, but they’re important. Make sure your child leaves the conversation with an understanding of the dangers. If you opt for a more kid-friendly phone, then make sure they understand the restrictions you’ve put in place. And hopefully a clearer conversation will lead to better long-term communication with your child.