According to research, 95% of teenagers have access to a smartphone -but how do you know if your child is ready? Experts weigh in on the ongoing controversy over smartphones.
Understand your child
While age norms might be useful, it is critical to evaluate where your child stands in terms of responsibility, adaptability, and mental health. Consider how they handle obligations in other aspects of their life, such as school and schoolwork, sports and activities, TV or iPad time, and chores, and how it will translate to phone use (and or abuse). While up to 95% of kids today have access to a smartphone, that doesn’t imply every tween or teen is ready for the responsibility.
“Kids can demonstrate they’re ready by how responsible they are with homework, or their belongings, or what their impulse control is like,” says Jean Twenge, a mom of three, psychology professor, and author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy-and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.
Dr Twenge recommends watching how your child handles daily tasks and responsibilities to see if they can handle the responsibilities and freedom that comes with a smartphone in particular.
“If your child is generally on top of things: if they don’t throw a tantrum when they don’t get their way, if they can follow ground rules in other areas,” Dr Twenge says. “But there are good kids who, for whatever reason, may not have great impulse control, so that’s something to consider.”
Be cautious if your child suffers from depression or anxiety
Another thing to keep in mind is that a kid who is already struggling with depression and anxiety is more vulnerable to what happens on social media and in communication with friends, so that’s something to keep in mind.”
“There’s just so much trouble that kids can get into online, and a lot of that trouble is on social media,” Dr Twenge says. “My research shows that time spent on social media is most closely correlated to issues of anxiety and depression, and some of that also correlates to general internet use. Social media, in particular, can open kids up to things that they’re not ready to deal with.”
If you don’t believe your child is ready for the responsibility and independence that comes with a smartphone, there are baby steps you can take as a family to introduce technology gradually and raise your comfort level with the concept.
The reason for many parents acquiring a phone is safety and convenience, but you don’t need a smartphone to do that. If contact with you, the parent, is the most important aspect, other things can help; it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
Starting your child with something more manageable, such as a smartwatch, allows you to ease everyone into the concept gradually.
“A smartwatch is an excellent starting point,” says Divya Dodhia, a child and family therapist. “It has a smaller reach, and parents have more control over how it’s used and what it’s used for, plus there’s a GPS tracker in it, so you know exactly where your kid is, and they can communicate with you, but not with anyone you don’t allow access to.”
Create and implement rules
Once you’ve determined that your child is ready to accept the responsibilities and challenges that come with smartphone access, it’s important to have a serious discussion about rules and expectations with them. Of course, each child and family is unique, but there are some fundamentals to consider.
Create and implement ground rules for your child’s phone usage, including time restrictions and guidelines for social media and other apps.
Setting acceptable time and usage limitations, as well as creating phone-free locations and events, such as family dinners or outings, are good starting points. And don’t be hesitant to examine and tweak the guidelines you’ve established for your child as they get older or if you run into a snag. Rules should evolve and change in tandem with children’s growth and development.
Set a good example
The most difficult aspect of limiting your child’s phone usage is that it forces you to consider your own. And if you’re addicted? They most likely will be as well.
According to experts, you should model the relationship with technology that you want your children to have. And, as harsh as it may sound, it’s vital to examine what works – and what doesn’t – in your own relationship with technology.