Your kids have been begging for one, and now, you've finally decided it's time for their first smartphone. That's super exciting for them (and slightly terrifying for you). You're not alone, as children across the globe will be getting their first device this holiday season. Since we can
catastrophize assume what's coming once that connected device is activated and connected to wifi, here are a few tips to make the experience a more pleasant (and much safer) one for all involved.
You've Had "The Talk"...Right?
I don't mean that talk, but hey, it might be a good time for that too since the internet is just a few clicks away from some pretty awkward conversations. I mean repeated talks about cyber safety since your children first started to utilize the internet. They know the Internet doesn’t come with an eraser, right? Do they know what a digital footprint is? When you hear about a sad cyberbullying story in the news, do you talk about it as a family? (If not, now's a good time to start.) If your children are at that "flirting with their peers" stage, do they know that taking a suggestive photo lives online forever and rarely stays just between the sender and recipient? Do they also know that showing or sending a nude photo of a fellow underage peer to others can be considered distribution of child pornography? Oof. This is where we are people. This. Is. Where. We. Are. These are the kinds of issues that are really happening to families just like yours and so please for the love of humanity talk to your children about safe technology usage in ways that are age-appropriate and do it often.
Your tweens and teens are rapidly approaching adulthood, which is chock-full of contracts surrounding big, important life events. Why not give them an official agreement for this really big, really important life event as well? There's something super serious about signing your name in commitment to an initiative, and this will help avoid any gray areas surrounding your expectations and their new device. It is also super satisfying to be able to point to said document when issues arise and say, "SEE. You read this and signed it yourself. Right here." *taps finger pointedly for effect* Seriously though, a plethora of technology contracts exist across the web, including this free one. Tailor it for your specific family dynamic, and keep it in a place that can be easily referenced.
"Not My Kid" Syndrome
I know, I know. Not your child. Not mine either. And same thing our parents thought about us when we were in middle and high school. Little did they know that we were (fill-in-the-blank) and thankfully, we did not have smartphones to document all of the...blanks. Over 50% of children with accounts connected to Bark.us experience at least one issue per month, and 82% of the time, their parents had no idea there was an issue until our alerts brought it to their attention. These kids are good kids. Smart kids. They are also kids. Kids make mistakes. Kids also delete texts before you can spot-check their devices, and speak in text slang using acronyms and emojis that will make you clutch your pearls. Know that issues like cyberbullying, sexting, thoughts of suicide and depression, eating disorders, potential drug use, and online predators are actually happening to children every day and can all be caught by a monitoring service like Bark. If you do give your child a device and neglect to utilize technology that can keep them safer online, that's like giving them the keys to a car with faulty brakes and no seatbelt. Don't do that.
Settings, Settings, And More Settings
Speaking of technology that can keep your children safer online, make sure you know what parental control and browser settings exist with your home ISP (Internet Service Provider) as well as specific device your child receives. In addition to Bark (full disclosure, I am the Chief Parent Officer of this company) which monitors content across platforms and devices, most of the major cell phone service providers offer apps and services that will allow you to limit and monitor your child’s data usage. Here is a comprehensive guide to buying your child's first mobile device. The guide also recommends a few different options for screen time management and safer online browsing. I know it's overwhelming, so that's why I love the private, invite-only Facebook group called Parenting Geeks On Call where you can ask any questions, at any time. There are many layers to keeping your children safer online, and they vary by device and household, but we as a community are here to hold your hand (and your glass of whatever) through the process.
This Is Your Brain On Drugs
More than 92 percent of teens are online, and 73 percent check their digital channels daily. It's well-documented that smartphone usage stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as sugar, sex, and cocaine. No wonder we can't put them down. In fact, you are probably reading this post from one right this second. No judging, it's just where we are as a society. It feels really good to get a like! The good thing for those of us born pre-1980-something is that we KNOW what life is like without everyone's face buried in a glowing device. We know the difference between real life and Instagram's filtered highlight reel. We know how it feels to be bored for hours at a time and talk to people in real life and date without swiping right and sit by a phone that is attached to a wall waiting for someone to call. Our kids don't and won't. We have to lead by example and show them there is more to life than being connected 24/7/365, and let them know how these devices are literally rewiring our brains. We have to be emotionally available for them, so they can in turn be there for others. Now excuse me while I go kick my son off YouTube and shut my laptop and try to play the actual board game version of Monopoly together. Or something.