By Ernst Wittmann, Global Account Director MEA & Country Manager – Southern Africa, at Alcatel
Smartphones are such a central part of life today that the question is no longer if a child will get a mobile device, but when. Used responsibly, they can be powerful educational tools, give parents the peace of mind of knowing their children are always reachable, and help children come to grips with tech from a young age.
Here are some ideas on how parents can help their children make responsible use of smartphones and mobile devices.
1. It starts with a conversation
Before even purchasing a smartphone for a son or daughter, parents can lay the groundwork for the child to use technology in a responsible way. Ahead of giving the child a device, you can discuss elements of smartphone ownership such as how the child will look after the device, which apps and tools he or she wishes to use, cyber-threats like cyberbullying, and what sort of device you will purchase.
2. Set a good example
We depend on our smartphones for work and our personal lives, to the extent that they are an extension of ourselves, and we are not always conscious of how often we look at them. Be mindful of how you use your own devices and set the right example for your children. If you look at your smartphone at the dinner table or in bed at night, you should not be surprised if they do the same.
3. Establish appropriate boundaries
Children need some guidelines from their parents if they are to learn to use their mobile devices in a responsible manner. For example, how many hours in a day may a child use the phone and other screens? How much freedom does he or she have in choosing which apps to download and which content to interact with?
How much data and airtime will children be allowed to use each month? Do you pay or must they pay out of their pocket money? Are you okay with a child using the Internet without supervision? May the child play games on the mobile device? Are there some tasks that the child must do on the family computer rather than a mobile device?
The rules will vary from family to family, so parents need to reflect on their values and their expectations before setting the guidelines. Naturally, the rules will evolve as a child grows older and hopefully learns to self-regulate.
4. Monitor and discuss the content and apps your child is using
When children first start using a smartphone, doing spot checks on the apps they’re using and the websites they are viewing can be a good way to set limits. Be honest about what you will be monitoring and encourage children to speak to you if they have an interaction with or see some content that makes them uncomfortable.
There are many powerful tools and apps you can use to review apps on a child’s phone, and block and restrict them; filter kids’ access to content online; manage how they use messaging apps; track their whereabouts in an emergency; etc. Some examples include Norton Family Premier, ESET Parental Control and Net Nanny.