Smartphones and kids. There is so much to process! In my previous post, I discussed smartphones and shared that we have an on-ramp process of getting our kids acclimated to technology in a healthy way. We use a thought process similar to drivers ed, where different ages get different stages of technology. The goal is to create good, lifelong habits and appropriate technology awareness. 

There are so many great parents out there creating healthy digital families. What our family does is just one way to tackle a big problem, but I want to share it with you in case it spurs ideas for you and your family. We certainly don’t have a step-by-step guide to raising a perfect smartphone child, nor is this an all-encompassing technology post. But in this post, I wanted to give a “Top 5” list of things we have found most helpful as we gear towards allowing our kids to have their own smartphone. 

1.  Establish Rules With Your Spouse to Model Good Habits

As with all key things we want to teach our kids, it all starts with what we model to them. If you don’t have set rules in your house for devices, consider having a date with your spouse to establish what you want to model to your kids. Here are a few of ours:

  • No devices on dates with the kids.  When my husband takes our 5-year-old daughter out, he wants to show her his full attention, in hopes that she demands the same out of guys she dates in the future.
  • No devices at the dinner table.  In the craziness of life, this is a place we want to slow down and connect.
  • No devices when we are driving.  I think all of us agree that texting while driving is on the list of our biggest nightmares for our kids.  
  • 20-minute timers per day for Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.  I am super guilty of wasting 5-10 minute chunks of time, multiple times per day, on Instagram and Pinterest. For my husband, its Twitter. Now, we have some therapy to help. 🙂 If you go to Settings -> Screen Time -> App Limits, you can establish a set amount of time for each day, and once you hit it the allotted time, you are locked out for the day. We hope that modeling this will help our kids develop self-control and spend the precious minutes of each day wisely. 
  • Designated device locations.  Our rule is that devices stay in family areas. I have a friend who built outlets into her mudroom lockers. And the rule for her older kids with smartphones? When you are in bed, the devices are plugged in. Not plugged in? No device usage the next day.
  • Establish device-free days.  We have specific days of the month where there are no devices. Ahhh.

 

2. Start With a Device Other Than a Cell Phone

If your kids do not have a smartphone yet, consider “on-ramping” the process by starting with an alternative communication device. 

We started our son, Cole, with an Amazon Fire and used the parental settings to establish healthy boundaries that we desired. 

If you are concerned about tracking your kids as they venture off to school, Kids Smart Watches are an excellent option. Rather than allowing them a smartphone, these watches have GPS trackers that will allow you to quickly and easily locate where they are at all times. They are waterproof, allow you to set up two-way calling with your choice of pre-selected numbers via an app on the parents’ phone, as well as help them keep track of their steps and fitness. There are a multitude of these watches out there, but I might suggest this one which you can find off of amazon. It makes them feel like a big kid… again, without the need for a smartphone. 

After owning a Fire for over a year to start healthy device habits, my eleven-year-old was wanting to text a few of his friends… which leads me to point #3.

 

3. Teach Your Kids How To Text

This may seem silly, but texting may not be as natural as you think. Statistics say that 1 in 4 kids are cyber-bullied, and 1 in 6 admit to being the bully. When kids text without education, it’s easy to see how this can happen. We downloaded the app Messenger Kids on our son’s Fire, and we monitor his texts with his friends. It has allowed for great teaching opportunities about written communication and has been a considerable part of our “on-ramping” process.

Messenger Kids is a kids messaging app created by Facebook that’s targeted at kids under 13. After downloading, a parent (or anyone with an existing Facebook account) must log in with their own Facebook credentials; that person can then approve all contacts in the Messenger Kids app. Parents can also add contacts to their kid’s account via the grown-up version of Messenger. If kids want to add a contact (and parents have enabled this feature), they can share a four-word passphrase with their friends. After that kid enters the passphrase into the app, parents will get a message to approve (or not approve) that connection. Kids can also have live video chats with their approved contacts. When Cole receives a message on his Fire, it also shows up on my phone. Since kids can’t delete messages, parents can monitor what their kids send through the app. Also, it teaches that just because you receive a text, doesn’t mean you have to read it right away, making real-life activities priority. Facebook designed the app for kids ages 6-12, but I wouldn’t advise starting this with kids less than 9.  

 

4. Have Your Kids Make Actual Phone Calls

As we all know, most kids tend not to use their smartphones for actual talking. The skill of communication gets lost in texting, and this scares me for my kids. I know that their emotional intelligence and ability to communicate will one day be the most critical component to their future success. Recently my 8-year-old son needed to call my dad for an important reason, and he asked to use my phone. Great! (Listening to his conversation, I realized the essential reason was for a BB gun. Good grief.) But conversation skills are vital; have them practice. Enjoy any moment you can get them communicating with others by talking instead of texting. Let them use your phone.  Let them use a landline.  Just keep up the habit of using a phone for conversation.

 

5. Search The Internet With Your Kids

In our world of being able to search Google or ask Siri or “Alexa” anything they want to, it is easy to see how one search query can lead to the next thing and then boom… your kids are being exposed to things that no one intended. School projects and life in general requires research, and obtaining information is a part of life. But, be present when your kids are searching the internet.  Better yet, have them look things up with you on a family computer. If our kids are looking up stuff on a smartphone, we are always engaged.

 

In my next post, I am sharing several great resources we have used in our goal to be a healthy technology family. I hope you find them as helpful as we have!  HLLF, Melissa

 

Melissa Cheatham

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