The days of talking on a single house phone with a long cord in the kitchen are long over. Most homes don’t even have a landline phone. Most Americans survive with a cell phone, which means that children don’t have access to a phone unless they borrow their parent’s phone or are given their own device.
No one wants to share their phone, even with their children. So parents are confronted early in childhood with buying a mobile device – normally a smartphone – for their child. The access of a smartphone opens up an unmonitored digital world to your child that maybe you aren’t ready for them to have. The dilemma for most parents is how much freedom they give children, while also keeping them safe.
This is not a debate for when your children are adults – 18 – and able to make their own decisions. Your children are tweens – 10, 11, or 12 – vulnerable ages when children are ripe for peer pressure and influence.
Too much digital freedom could lead them into a mature world of graphic pictures, cyber bullying and the possibility of meeting strangers through the Internet.
How do you keep your child safe? Firstly, program the phone with limitations that make you comfortable. There are sites you can ban or limitations you can put on the phone.
Second, talk to your children. Use specific examples of issues with people you know or from incidents in the news. Here are some tips for parents who want to give their children freedom, but also guidance to make the right decisions:
- Give your children a quick tutorial on the dangers lurking on the Internet. Go over how some adults pose as children and suggest meeting to hang out. Never send your picture to a stranger, even if they have sent one to you.
- Discuss the criminal harm that can be caused by sending and receiving sexually explicit pictures of themselves to their friends. Even though it may seem harmless, pictures of naked children are considered child pornography and possessing such material is illegal. There are several examples of children facing prosecution and being labeled sex offenders.
- Cyber-bullying is a big issue and it drives some children to desperate action to escape. Tell them that you can deal with any problems as a family and they are never to cope alone. Go over examples and give your child positive ways to exercise control so they don’t feel helpless.
- Consider subscribing to a device monitoring service like TeenSafe. The service allows parents to covertly monitor text message, phone logs, Internet searches and social media posts in addition to providing a precise location of the phone.
Remember, having an open and trusting relationship with your child is one of the best ways to ensure their safety because they will come to you when they are in trouble.
Aside from digital monitoring, there is also a cost issue. Many children have no idea how much time or data they are using or text messages they are sending. If you don’t have an unlimited plan, consider getting a prepaid phone that runs out of use when all the minutes are gone and you refill the minutes monthly. This is probably one of the only ways to keep your child from racking up a $500 cell phone bill.
You can get several kinds of prepaid phones with unlimited text, data and minutes for a local geographical area. Also consider buying an inexpensive phone because it’s almost guaranteed it will get lost.
It’s not that you are suspicious of your child. In fact, you are trusting. You just want to make sure your precious offspring are protected when you aren’t around.