Managing Mobile Phones As A Family

If you’re thinking about purchasing a smartphone for your child or they already own one, it’s important to think about how you’ll help them learn to use it responsibly. Modelling responsible mobile phone use is key.

A Common Sense Media report, The New Normal: Parents, Teens, Screens, and Sleep [2019 US data] found that the number of parents who say they spend too much time on their mobile devices has increased by 23 points since 2016 (52% in 2019 vs. 29% in 2016). Additionally, more kids wish their parent would get off their device: There has been an 11-point increase in the number of children who think their parent spends too much time on their device (28% in 2016 vs. 39% 2019)

According to Common Sense Media and The Smart Talk in their GUIDE to help parents consider the issues around providing a smartphone to their children, they offer the following:

What’s the right age to get a child a smartphone or other device?
The short answer: there really isn’t an exact age that’s best. It’s different for every child. One thing parents can do is consider their child’s maturity level.

Here are some questions to help determine if they are ready: 

  • Does your child show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house? Do they show up when they say they will? 
  • Does your child tend to lose things, such as backpacks or homework folders? If so, expect they might lose an expensive(!) phone, too. 
  • Does your child need to be in touch for safety reasons? 
  • Would easy access to friends benefit your child for social reasons? 
  • Do you think they’ll use mobile phones responsibly — for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations? 
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded? 
  • Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

Responsible use would involve:

  • Adhering to family rules or agreements about its use
  • Keeping track of call, text and data usage to help manage the costs
  • Using Wifi to limit the data costs of downloads e.g music, videos, app refreshes
  • Knowing where the phone is at all times and keeping it charged
  • Being respectful in calls, texts and social media posts

While it can be difficult to set enforceable rules, the best results are often achieved if you take a collaborative approach and just as importantly, consider role modelling responsible, respectful and safe mobile phone use. The most effective tool to help families develop an agreement is the Smart Talk.

Here are five steps to help your family develop smartphone rules that work to keep young family members safe and accountable for their online behaviour.

#1 Set the smartphone rules together

Taking a collaborative approach, rather than introducing fixed rules, will increase the likelihood that your child will follow, rather than resist the smartphone rules .

Discuss the smartphone rules you’d like to implement and why, and within reason, incorporate their feedback and ideas to encourage buy-in. Ideally, put this smartphone policy in place the very first day you allow your child or teen to own a phone. 

You may like to talk with your teen about having phone-free times every day. For example, you may decide to ban using a mobile phone during meals and homework. Since late night screen time can interfere with a teenager’s sleep habits, you might like to enforce a rule about when mobile devices should be removed from bedrooms and placed in a central location in the house to charge overnight. Working with your teen to develop these rules in a fair yet clear way can increase transparency and accountability.

 #2 Discuss smartphone and online safety

Smartphones can expose a teen to safety risks such as cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, and contact with strangers. Therefore, it’s crucial to have an open dialogue about how to handle these negative online experiences. Ideally, research and encourage your child to use best practice privacy settings on their smartphone and social media accounts. Set clear guidelines such as:

  • Each smartphone contact should be a real friend or family member 
  • Only accept new social media friend requests from people they know face to face
  • Seek approval from a parent or caregiver before downloading an app, and set all approved apps to the strongest privacy setting available 
  • Disable location sharing on their smartphone, regularly check which apps use location sharing, and switch off the ones they do not need 

#3 Role model responsible mobile phone use 

If you text while driving or continually check social media, it’s likely they will internalise this as acceptable phone use. By being mindful of your own choices regarding your smartphone and explaining your choices, you can help guide them toward conscientious mobile phone use with a stronger framework to resist dangerous smartphone behaviour.

#4 Guide your child toward positive mobile phone use

Encourage your child to adopt positive smartphone habits, such as learning how to communicate in a respectful way. 

#5 Create consequences for breaking smartphone rules

Talk about and agree on consequences if your family’s smartphone rules are broken. For example, if your teen violates the rules or misuses their mobile, he or she might lose phone privileges for a period of time. Make sure that all rules and consequences are communicated transparently to avoid confusion.

More Common Sense Media Resources for Parents

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