Your Kid Wants A Smart Phone. Are You Ready For That?
There’s a lot of talk amongst parents about knowing when your kid is ready to handle the responsibility of his or her own smart phone. There are some great resources to aid you in this consideration. We love the self-evaluation you can have your child complete by the folks at Better Screen Time, which includes questions such as, “Do I get up on my own and get ready for school every day?” Also, “Am I responsible with my belongings?”
When it comes to evaluating child-readiness, you can also lean on the support and advice of other parents who are intentionally delaying smart phones for their kids, through movements and online communities like Wait Until 8th. Making an age or grade prerequisite can be helpful in postponing technology, allowing your child to grow in readiness.
But there’s another element of readiness we often don’t consider. And that’s the element of PARENT-READINESS.
When thinking about crossing that significant threshold of smartphone ownership, how can we as parents determine if WE ourselves are ready for all that’s ahead?
On one hand, there’s the thought of, “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” It’s possible none of us would truly be completely ready for the changes a smart phone brings until we were forced into that reality. Kind of like when we first became parents. No one feels 100% ready for the sleepless nights, figuring out what each cry means, potty training, or how to start incorporating discipline when the time is right. Our circumstances simply required more of us, and so we took each step forward and prayerfully learned as we went, leaning into others who had been there and adjusting as necessary.
The difference is, as first-time parents, we were ravenous to learn all we could about what was ahead. We read books, blogs, watched documentaries, and asked others lots of questions. We armed ourselves with TONS of information.
However, when it comes to crossing the threshold of when the right time is for our child to own a smartphone, the preparation tends to be considerably less thorough. Regarding questions about cost and product choice, parents do a pretty good job on the research. But there are many other factors to determine, and they will require you to ask yourself a few questions.
Here are some important factors to consider when thinking about purchasing your son or daughter’s first smart phone:
1. How healthy is your relationship with your child?
Relationship equity is crucial whenever you start a new phase of parenting (potty training, puberty, etc.). However, you may not have the luxury of waiting until your relationship is in a good place before a new device is a reality. For example, sometimes custody arrangements necessitate certain technology be available. But you should not underestimate the importance of your relational equity in every new phase of risk to your child’s world. For example, if your kid is sent pornographic pics on their new phone, does he/she feel comfortable coming to you about it?
Katey McPherson, a former school counselor, educator, author, and renowned child safety advocate puts it this way: “When parents and leaders ask when we should hand access to the internet over, when should I get my child their first phone or laptop… my standard answer is, ‘When you are ready for them to inflict pain on others, have pain inflicted on them, and to see explicit content and porn.’ “
As a parent, you must realize that your relationship with your child is crucial to helping them be resilient against harmful influences. No matter what age you allow access, you must realize the world you are opening up to them with that access. And your relationship will be foundational to helping them navigate the impending difficulties and possible trauma ahead. Relational work should preempt smart phone access whenever possible.
2. How distracted are you as a parent by your own smartphone?
Do you know the data on your daily and weekly smart phone use? This will likely come up with your son or daughter, and it will be a helpful gauge for you to determine what expectations are realistic for their usage. If you are always on your phone, this will be your child’s expectation of their own experience. And if you’re both always on phones, your relationship will change rapidly to a more disconnected state, which has a long-term impact on your child.
3. Are you ready to gracefully handle any upcoming conflict additional technology will bring?
Most families experience conflict around the subject of technology when a new device enters the picture. There are new boundaries and changing boundaries. Parents need to be sure they have the grace to handle the increase in family conflict that a smartphone brings. Managing your expectations for the amount of conflict up ahead will help you avoid additional frustration. Like suiting up for a football game, you better make sure you are clear on the rules and your strategy for opposition. “It’s my way or the high way!” is not a healthy strategy for conflict management in families. If you’re in a super stressful phase of life right now, please honestly consider if a new phone will push you over the edge, exploding your stress on to your kids.
4. Do you understand how to establish basic time and content restrictions on the technology you are considering putting in their hands?
Do you know what monitoring tools you will need? If not, there is a learning curve ahead, and your student may be able to outsmart you pretty easily while you are getting up to speed. Consider utilizing restrictions and monitoring apps on your own phone for several months before you’d have to use them on your kid’s phone. You need to feel comfortable navigating the ins-and-outs of these parental controls (and they may not seem intuitive to you). For example, what settings will be used on the device itself, and what 3rd party monitoring solutions will you need? How will you accomplish filtered internet searches and time restrictions? Are you green-lighting social media, and do you understand that much of social media will be unmonitorable (Do you know the best way to monitor social media on a smart phone? Hint: get an Android). You’re in luck: we have an in-depth webinar coming up that will walk you through this framework!
5. Are you willing to spend up to 15-30 minutes each day (or more) for the first few months talking through training issues with your child?
Topics might be: time wasted, conflict management surrounding texting with friends, rules broken, etc.. Monitoring solutions will also require a certain amount of time daily as you get used to the menus, settings, options, and reporting features. If you have very little time margin in your life already, just know that it might be a struggle to provide a high level of training and oversight for your child in this area, which could make them more vulnerable to digital dangers.
If you’re in this situation, consider a low-risk option like Gabb Wireless as a first phone. With no Internet, no social media, no group texting or sending pictures, all you’ll have to monitor are text messages (which you would have to do with your eyeballs… no way to use a 3rd party monitoring solution on this closed ecosystem).
6. Are you prepared to spend up to $50 per month to pay for phone service AND the necessary third party tools to monitor usage?
Family budgets can be tight, and as kids grow into teenagers, the little buggers certainly seem to be more expensive! Please don’t throw down a few hundred dollars on a new device and then decline additional paid monitoring services because they are “too costly.” An accurate picture of prices on products we highly recommend: Covenant Eyes will run about $15/mo, and Bark will run about $15/mo ($12 with our affiliate link). Add to that cost additional expenses for actual phone service, if that’s the route you go (some parents start off with wifi only). Let these monthly monitoring costs be part of your overall phone budget. For example, maybe you could start your kid on a more basic device you can pay for with cash (or have them save for), so that a monthly device payment is not in addition to monitoring costs and service. Bottom line: don’t buy your kids devices you can’t afford to protect them on.
Parenting is no easy gig any way you slice it, but parenting in the digital age is fraught with challenges and danger at every turn. Technology is not going away, and we can’t allow it to paralyze us in fear. When it come to knowing when the time is right to introduce new technology to our kids, it’s important for both parent and child to be ready, and for the transition to be gradual, if possible. Consider starting smart phone use with talk, text, and a few productivity apps. Add other things in as both parent and child learn the ropes. There’s no need to start swimming in the middle of the ocean.