Even though the smartphone is barely a decade old, it’s become almost an essential for modern life. Everyone has a smartphone today—even kids. According to a 2016 Pew report, 34 percent of 10-year-olds have their own smartphone, a number that has almost certainly increased in the last few years. Some don’t have their own device yet, but they probably have access to one through their parents or friends. Kids love smartphones as much as adults, which can be challenging for parents to deal with.
Online safety for kids is a growing concern, and most parents are also concerned about the potential impact of electronic devices on kids’ brains. This makes it essential to understand and safeguard kids’ smartphone activities, just as you would with a computer. Here’s what you need to know about smartphone usage for kids and teens—and how, as a parent, you can stay in control.
Kids Can Use Smartphones to Learn
Without guidance, kids often end up using smartphones for activities that offer little to no value. The good news is that there are some apps and activities on phones that can help kids engage their minds productively and learn skills. There are all kinds of academic activities and resources for kids and teens online that can be accessed from a mobile device.
Kids can use smartphones to learn from an early age. Some apps are designed specifically for young children, like the Bedtime Math mobile apps. These apps provide a fun and educational activity parents can do with their kids from ages 3-9 to make math part of their everyday routine. Because there are so many educational apps out there, it’s not hard to find options that suit your family’s needs and interests.
Involvement Is Essential
Parents need to be actively involved in their kids’ smartphone usage to make sure they’re using these devices responsibly. Setting limits on usage is important, as kids need to have screen-free activities and interests in order to thrive. Limits might include setting aside tech-free zones or specific times of the day when devices can be used. Parents should follow these household rules as well. Kids notice when they’re told they spend too much time on their phones but their parents are constantly texting or playing games.
It’s also important to be aware of what your kids are doing when they’re using their smartphones. If they are allowed to use social media or play games, what are the rules? Parents should have the passcodes and passwords to their children’s devices and key accounts. Kids don’t yet know how to conduct themselves safely online, and having the ability to check in on a child’s activity helps to reinforce good behavior. Every family’s rules are different, but no matter what specific rules you have in your household, make sure they’re consistent and enforced.
Smartphones Expose Kids to the World
The internet can be a dangerous place for kids and teens. Predators, cyberbullying, and content you really don’t want your kids to see are all concerns for parents. Smartphones are a link to the Wild West of the internet and if you’re not keeping a close eye on what your kids do online, they could be exposed to something dangerous.
Learning to use tools like social media safely and responsibly is becoming an important skill as more people join these platforms. As your children get older, it’s your responsibility to teach them how to communicate appropriately online and keep themselves safe. Their age and maturity level should dictate how involved you are in their online communications. If you’re not sure how to keep your kids safe online, check out these social media resources for parents.
Apps Can Help Keep Your Children Safe
Since some of the dangers of smartphone use for kids have come to light, app designers have stepped up to give parents more control over what their children do or see online. Obviously, most parents want to prevent their children from activities like talking to strangers or making unauthorized purchases over the internet.
Fortunately, new apps (often built-in) are allowing parents to set limits on all kinds of activities. From making purchases to the amount of time spent on the device to which websites can be visited, these apps can help kids stay safe without their parents watching them constantly. Parents of teens can even use location services to know where their kids are when they’re out on their own.
Build Trust Over Time
Trust is an important component in teaching your kids good smartphone etiquette, but that etiquette and discipline isn’t learned overnight. Have regular conversations about why these limits are imposed—and use parental controls until your children are able to regulate their own use and stay safe. Smartphones can enhance our lives and our kids’ lives—but they can also take them over if we’re not careful.