A few years ago, I got my daughter her first cell phone. It was a basic model that she could use to call and text with. She’s now in seventh grade and wants a phone that can do a few more things. After considering her maturity level and trustworthiness, I decided to let her have a smart phone.
I’m not the only parent who’s had to deal with this situation. Kids are technologically savvy and want smart phones (and other devices) at earlier ages. However, smart phones can be troublesome if parents don’t take the time to install some safeguards.
If you decide that your child can handle the responsibility of owning a smart phone, these six steps will streamline the process of setting up your child’s first smart phone:
When I gave my daughter her first phone, I told her that having a phone is not a right, it is a privilege. I set expectations about usage and had a discussion about what’s appropriate and what’s not. I also talked to her about privacy and security. You will need to set your own expectations for your child. My friend, created these Rules for Using the iPad for her daughter. I think they are appropriate for any mobile device.
I encourage parents to get pre-paid phones for their kids. No contract plans make it easy to monitor usage and manage costs. If you discover that your child isn’t mature enough to handle the responsibility of owning a smart phone, you’re not stuck with a two-year agreement. You can stop and start service as needed.
Cricket offers reliable service at affordable prices. Smart phone plans start at $50 per month and include unlimited talk, text and data. The network is reliable and covers major markets in the U.S. (over the summer, my daughter and I traveled from Houston to Kansas City and then to D.C. and never had any trouble with coverage).
Obviously, there are many smart phone choices on the market. You’ll have to decide how much money you’re willing to spend on a device and which ecosystem you want to invest in (iOS, Android, Windows, etc). I chose a Samsung Galaxy S4 for my daughter to use because she’s familiar with the device (her grandfather, godfather and aunt all have have Samsung devices). It also helps that I own an android device because I can teach her how to use it.
Manage Parental Controls
Each phone has privacy and security controls. As soon as you as you get your child’s first smart phone, you need set up pass codes, content restrictions, and privacy settings. You will also have to set up an account in one of the app store (iTunes, Google Play, etc) so she can download apps, music, games, and movies. These accounts require an e-mail address, either yours or your child’s. Be sure to set up content and in-app purchase restrictions.
Install Safe Browsers
The internet can be a scary place if it isn’t properly monitored and controlled. With the browsers that come pre-installed on smart phone, kids can inadvertently stumble upon inapropriate material. To combat this problem, parents can install safer browsers on their children’s devices.
I installed Mobicip on my daughter’s phone and on my son’s iPod. Mobicip allows your child to surf safely and securely on his/her device by blocking inappropriate content.
Another browser that I’d recommend is McGruff Safeguard Browser. I like it because it sends you daily summary usage reports showing your child’s activity.
You will need to disable your device’s default browser and replace is it one of these.
Download Safety Apps
There are thousands of apps to help you monitor your child’s activities and keep her safe. You’ll have to decide which apps offer features that are most important to you. I installed the following safety apps on my daughter’s phone:
Life360 – This app allows you to build a network, known as a Circle, with family members, know when your family is safe or needs help, chat one-on-one or with everyone within each of your Circles, get alerted when a Circle member reaches a destination, and track a stolen or lost phone.
MamaBear – This app gives parents peace of mind by letting them keep track of their children. Where they are. See your kids on a map and get alerted when they arrive or leave places you set. Who they’re with. Discover when your kids get tagged in a photo or check-in with friends at a location on Facebook and Instagram. What they’re saying. Learn when your kids make new friends on Facebook or Instagram and get alerted to bad language or signs of bullying. When they’re speeding. Find out when your kids are driving or riding faster than your pre-set limit.
Bully Block – This app allows users to covertly record verbal threats and harassment and block inappropriate text and photos. It also has an instant reporting feature that allows your child to send and e-mail or text examples of abusive behavior to parents, teachers, or law enforcement.
Smart phones make life more convenient and fun for parents and children. Communicating expectations and setting up the device with your child can make it even more fulfilling for everyone.
Join the conversation: Does your child have a smart phone? Why or why not? At what age did he/she get it?
Disclosure: I received a device and phone service from Cricket. All opinions are my own.