When to Give Your Child a Smartphone
Deciding when to get your child a smartphone has less to do with age and more to do with action on both the parent and child’s part, according to experts.
Talk about technology with your child. Begin an ongoing conversation about how teachers use technology, how friends use it at school, and even how you use it. Ask questions about what your child enjoys about technology. Is there a game or video that he likes? Find out why. In some cases, it might be a signal that your child is interested in actually doing a similar activity. Also think with your child about the effects technology has on us. Think with him about how he feels after he’s played a lot of video games, versus how he feels after he’s been reading for a while. The goal is to help children build awareness and learn, ultimately, to regulate their relationship with devices.
Start young. It may seem counterintuitive, but introducing responsible device use is another parenting duty today — like handing children a book or telling them how to eat healthy. Rather than run away from technology use, consider it an opportunity to educate your child, demonstrate proper etiquette, and test out rules. “You’d never say you are not going to read to a child until kindergarten,” Gallagher says. “We put books in a kid’s hand immediately. Devices require another literacy that we need to prepare them for and teach. You can’t just give them a phone at 12 with no skill- or literacy-building beforehand.”
Know your options. Research the different types of technology available for children. Many companies are creating devices specifically with children in mind that provide parents some leverage over technology. Instead of opting for what Steiner-Adair refers to as a “fully-loaded” smartphone, consider a lesser model that can provide developmentally-appropriate privileges, such as being able to text only parents or a certain number of approved friends, using pre-approved apps, and having limited or no access to the Internet. Check out Common Sense Media’s guidelines on the choices that exist.
Be savvy about device use. Most of the things that can be done on a smartphone can be done on the other devices that your child might use, including devices she uses at school. Ipads, Kindles, laptops, and standard desktop computers are all capable of playing videos, installing apps, and sending texts, and making calls. Don’t think that because you haven’t given your child his first phone, you don’t have to have conversations together about responsible, ethical use of these devices.
Understand how your child’s school uses devices and technology. Parents often feel stuck when their child claims she needs to use a device for homework. Even if the assignment — like watching YouTube videos — seems questionable, parents are often reluctant to ask their child to stop or to take the device away. Gallagher recommends that today’s digital parents communicate often with teachers about how the school uses devices, how much exposure children have, how they are learning to use technology, and how devices should be used at home for school. If your child’s school has not initiated a conversation about technology use, then be proactive in asking. Add it to the “to ask” list at parent-teacher conferences or consider e-mailing a teacher at the start of the quarter.
Develop rules together. Before handing over the phone, set rules and limits. “Have that conversation about the rules and how they might change throughout the years,” Steiner-Adair says. Some ideas to consider, which should be worked out in advance: Who pays for the phone? Who is held accountable? Who will know the passwords? Who is the phone’s owner? If it is lost or breaks, then what happens? Are there certain times when the phone is allowed and not allowed?
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Source: Harvard Graduate School of Education — Usable Knowledge, © President and Fellows of Harvard College
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