‘Tis the season for gifting and if you’re giving your child their first cell phone (or any digital device) to unwrap this holiday, take some time to develop a strategy for what happens next. It’s ok if you haven’t thought this until now because you’ve been focused on trying to figure who has the best price on the device you’ve had your eye on for months! But before handing over that new phone, take some time to think about how you’ll manage the new technology in your home.
Phones, tablets, and computers are empowering because they unlock so much potential for learning and communication, but we also want our kids to be smart and safe when using them. Now is the perfect time to consider the kind of relationship you want your kids to have with technology. It’s also a good idea think about how to reinforce messages about kindness and safety both online and off.
Before giving your child their first cell phone and turning them loose on it, consider the following:
- What kinds of family rules might you put in place that you expect your kids to follow?
- How will you keep an eye on what they’re doing?
- Will you place limits on their screen time and if so, how will you monitor it?
- What will you do if they come to you with hurt feelings because of something that has been said online?
If the above list makes you feel a bit overwhelmed, I’m here to help your family create healthy digital habits. The following guide includes simple things you can do before giving your child their first cell phone, how to work together to develop a contract when they first get it, and ways to continue conversations as they become experienced users. This post is full of favorite resources for parents as well as tips based on personal experience parenting a tween boy (age 12) and a teen girl (almost 15) and navigating their use of cell phones.
3 Things to Do Before Giving Your Child Their First Cell Phone
This is a huge step and one I know you’ve carefully considered as you’ve gauged whether your child is ready for a phone and what device is right for them. Before you giving your child their first cell phone, think about your expectations for its use, how to set ground rules, and the types of tools you might use to manage their new mobile device.
Melanie Pinola encourages parents to “Teach your children to use technology in a healthy way and pick up the skills and habits that will make them successful digital citizens” in her New York Times piece, How (and When) to Limit Kids’ Tech Use, but even the author herself admits there’s no single recipe for success. The truth is that every family is different and what works for one, might not work for another.
Instead, think about the following before giving your child their first cell phone:
- Your relationship with technology and the type of relationship you want your kids to have with it. Do you put your devices down and devote your undivided attention to your kids? Kids learn by example and pick up on your habits, often mimicking what they see. When we see our behaviors reflected back on us through our kids, it can be a harsh reminder of how we engage with screens. It’s also pretty difficult for us to expect that our kids will put down their phones if we are rarely without ours.
- What balance looks like and if you’re looking for balance over the course of a day or a week. Is there a balance between screen time and time spent doing extracurricular activities, interacting with friends, reading, and engaging in other hobbies? Also, are you seeking balance in the course of a day or over a week? A balanced media diet is just as important as making sure you eat a healthy diet. Make sure your kids realize that screens include television, computer, tablets, gaming systems, and smartphones as you figure out how much cumulative screen time is right for your child and family.
- If you view all screen time equally or if exceptions might be made for passive and productive screen time. Kids often reach for their phones without thinking about how time in front of it, and the many other screens they’re in front of, adds up.
I like to define passive screen time as watching for pure entertainment whereas productive screen time is using screen time to learn a skill, do homework, etc.
After thinking about these things, the next question parents often have how to manage their child’s new mobile device. There is no shortage of apps out there but I’ll save you some time and let you know my new favorite tool for parents whose kids are new to cell phones is the free Family Link app from Google.
About Family Link
Whether your children are younger or in their teens, Family Link lets you set digital ground rules to help guide them as they learn, play, and explore on their mobile devices. Family Link helps ensure your child is accessing good content, keep an eye on screen time, and also see where they are. Here’s a quick look at 6 Family Link features that can help your family.
View Time Spent on Favorite Apps
Not all screen time is the same. There will be times when they use their mobile device to text a friend for a homework assignment and other times when they’re watching YouTube videos with friends or playing mobile games. Family Link’s View activity reports feature can be used to teach your child about productive versus passive screen time because it shows how much time they’re spending on their favorite apps. This can help them make healthy decisions about what they do on their device as your family works towards balancing screen time and other activities.
Manage App Purchases
We’ve all heard horror stories about kids downloading apps and parents getting huge credit card bills. Family Link lets you manage apps through notifications that help you approve or block apps your child wants to download from the Google Play Store. It also lets you manage in-app purchases and hide specific apps on their device.
Set Screen Time Limits
Screen time limits differ for every family and it’s up to you to decide what’s right in your house for your child. Regardless of what you decide, Family Link lets you set time limits and a bedtime for your child’s device to help them find a good balance. It’s also easy to change screen time limits as your child gets older and their needs change.
Lock Their Phone
Let’s be honest- There are times when you need your child to come downstairs for dinner, let off some steam by playing outside, focus on homework, or need together time as a family. Family Link lets you remotely lock your child’s device whenever you’ve given them a warning that’s been ignored and it’s time to take a break.
In addition to a cell phone being a constant communication lifeline, Family Link can be used to help locate your child as long as they’re carrying an Android device.
Feed Their Curiosity
A cell phone can be a powerful learning tool when your child has access to content that’s just right for them, engaging, and fun. Family Link also helps you find age appropriate content thanks to teacher-recommended apps that can be added directly to their device.
4 Things to Do After Giving Your Child Their First Cell Phone
Even though your child is over the moon excited about their first cell phone, this is when the work begins. It’s easy to throw down the gauntlet and give them your list of dos and don’ts but it’s far more practical start a conversation that will allow you to work together now and for years to come.
Work together to create realistic expectations that they’re more likely to uphold
You’ve had some time to think about the role technology plays in your life, how you envision your child using their new phone at home and to communicate with you when you’re apart, and the types of tools to use to manage their new device. Having a conversation to establish ground rules about technology together is important but if you’re not sure where to start, The Smart Talk can help. It’s a free helpful online tool that covers safety & privacy, screen time, social media, apps & downloads, texting & calling, reputation & respect, and online videos & cameras. By sitting down and talking through answer a series of questions, you’ll have your very own personalized agreement in about 15 minutes. The process is super simple (just 3 steps) and doesn’t take a lot of time, but The Smart Talk is a great way for families to have a productive conversation with new cell phone users about realistic expectations.
Show them the apps and tools you’ll be using to keep them safe
After giving your child their first cell phone and using The Smart Talk to create a family agreement, show them Family Link. Let them know it’s a tool designed to create healthy digital habits and reinforce the ground rules you both agreed to. It’s also important to let them know the rules aren’t set in stone. Encourage your child to come talk to you if they’re finding that they’re needing their phone for homework and need to relax screen time limits. Letting them know you’re open to a discussion and are willing to be flexible goes a long way.
Reinforce the importance of kindness online and off
There’s no doubt that mobile devices are powerful communication tools. The constant connection to each other provides comfort but also creates anxiety. Access to texting, the ability to have conversations through gaming consoles, and direct messaging through social media tools like Instagram and Snapchat creates new opportunities and challenges for social interaction because these platforms can amplify negativity.
Even though we have conversations with our kids about being nice to others, they’re at an age where they’re very much in the moment so it’s up to us to instill the importance of responding with kindness and empathy. Besides encouraging our kids to take the high road by applying the concept of “treat others as you’d want to be treated” and modeling expected behaviors, there are other things we can do to encourage positive interactions on digital devices.
Learning through play is one of the most effective ways for kids of any age to demonstrate their knowledge and Interland does just that. Interland is a free, web-based game by Google that makes learning about digital citizenship a fun, engaging and hands-on experience.
This online adventure puts key lessons of digital safety into hands-on practice through four challenging games where kids are asked various questions about real world scenarios they could encounter. For a look at each of the four games, how to play, and the questions that help reinforce important lessons about digital citizenship, visit my post: How Kids Can Play Their Way Through Interland to Learn Digital Citizenship.
Be Internet Awesome together
Now that you’ve set ground rules with your kids to create healthy digital habits, Google’s free Be Internet Awesome Family Guide will help your family discuss, learn, and think about the five areas of Internet Awesomeness. Here’s how Be Internet Awesome’s Family Guide can help you continue the conversation about digital citizenship topics in your home:
- SMART: Share with Care
- Talk as a family about what your kids can do when they wonder what to share and who to share it with.
- Understand what kinds of information are okay to be shared and what should be kept private–or just within your family.
- ALERT: Don’t Fall for the Fake
- Understand that just because something is online doesn’t mean it’s true.
- Learn how online search works and why it’s important to use critical thinking when searching the Web for info and other content.
- STRONG: Secure your Secrets
- Understand why digital security matters and how to make it happen.
- Learn how to create strong passwords.
- KIND: It’s Cool To Be Kind
- Understand what positivity looks like and how to express it online through devices.
- Identify situations where it’s better to wait to communicate face-to-face than to text or post online–and when to ask a parent or older sibling for help.
- BRAVE: When in Doubt, Talk It Out
- Encourage kids to ask for help when things get negative or they feel uncomfortable, helping them see that supporting others and asking for help to make things better are brave things to do.
- Consider whether a situation calls for talking things out offline and face-to-face, reporting the abuse online, or both.
I love how Be Internet Awesome promotes being safe and smart while reminding them it’s cool to be kind. The is a multifaceted program is a great resource to have in our parent arsenal as we teach kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety, remind them of the importance of interacting positively, and give them much needed tools to help them address negativity when it arises.
For more information about tools and resources to use before giving your child their first cell phone:
- Visit Family Link to learn more and download the app for iOS and Android devices
- Take a look at the Be Internet Awesome Family Guide
- Play Interland with your kids to put your kindness skills to the test at co/KindKingdom.
- Share Be Internet Awesome’s online curriculum with your kids’ teachers so they can introduce these activities in the classroom to help disempower bullying behavior and encourage healthy, productive interactions.
You can also read my past posts:
- How Google Be Internet Awesome Teaches Kids It’s Cool to Be Kind
- 6 Questions Parents Need to Ask Kids to Reinforce Kindness in the Digital Worldas a way to teach them how to treat others how you’d like to be treated, both online and IRL
- How I Taught My Tween to Be an Upstander
- How to Talk to Kids When They See Adults Being Unkind
- How Kids Can Play Their Way Through Interland to Learn Digital Citizenship
This post is sponsored by Google but all opinions are my own.