Getting Your Tweens and Teens Started With Mobile Technology
While smartphones and mobile technology are commonplace and have become the tools of choice for seemingly everything but phone calls, the truth is that smartphones, and the implications of their use and ownership are posing new challenges to parents. The debate has unfolded in a flurry of questions, scenarios and “what if’s”, and it seems that parents and non-parents alike fall on a varied scale of “no phones until they can pay for it themselves” to “my 9 year old has her own phone.” While there is no clear-cut answer to the question “how young is too young for a smartphone?” there is a common narrative underlying the tips, tricks and strategies you can employ to introduce mobile technology to the lives of your kids should you choose to do so.
Do kids really need a smartphone?
Short answer: No. Generations of kids got along just fine without mobile devices. But, times have changed. And, while they certainly can live without Snapchat and Angry Birds (though many kids would staunchly disagree), few parents would argue against the security and peace of mind that mobile phones offer when it comes to staying in constant contact with your kids or providing them the ability to get in touch whenever and from wherever they need to; even more so when you consider the GPS and location tracking technology available on many of today’s smartphones.
The question of if and when to get your child a mobile device really comes down to personal choice and a few key considerations:
Age and maturity are inextricably linked but aren’t mutually exclusive. There are many 8 year olds who demonstrate maturity beyond their years just as there are teenagers who’d forget to put on shoes in the morning if mom wasn’t there to remind them. You know your child better than anyone else, and it’s up to you to decide when the time is right to provide them with their first mobile phone. In fact, many parents use the “first cell phone” opportunity to teach their kids a lesson in responsibility and accountability.
Are you a family that’s always on the move, with one kid at hockey practice while the other’s across town for a piano lesson? If so, you certainly know the value of being able to send a quick SMS to your child to check in, let them know you’re running late, or need to tally votes on what to make for dinner. Either way, equipping your family with mobile devices is a practical way to keep everyone connected while they go about their daily activities.
Needs? Or Wants?
I’m sure many crafty cases have been made as to why your son or daughter needs the latest Samsung Galaxy device. The truth of the matter is that beyond the “cool factor” and uptick in social status that is often the driving force for many teens, you can just as easily get them onto a family share plan with a completely affordable device that still has great features. Be it calling, texting, surfing or Instagramming, what matters most is understanding the features and functionality that you and your child need, and working out from there. We’ve actually developed a handy tool to help you calculate monthly data usage needs.
Once the initial considerations have been addressed and you’ve concluded that your child is indeed ready for his or her first mobile device, there are many tips, tricks and strategies you can employ to ensure a smooth and responsible transition into the connected world. Here are just a few to consider:
- Be clear: set your expectations, establish ground rules ahead of time and stick to them. Some parents have gone so far as drafting written contracts outlining the do’s and don’ts of owning a mobile phone.
- What’s old is new: start them off with a basic model device and have them prove that they can handle the responsibility. Chances are you’ve got an older, yet perfectly functional mobile phone tucked away in a drawer somewhere. (Side note: you can also recycle them responsibly and support a good cause.)
- Share the experience: monitor usage as appropriate and review monthly bills together. Kids often don’t appreciate the financial implications of their mobile usage or streaming YouTube videos for hours at a time.
- Graduation days: establish a graduated usage schedule, allowing a few hours of leisurely tech time per day, and increasing that time as their responsibility and adherence to the rules improves. (Once chores are complete, of course!).
- Share plans: add your tween or teen onto your family share plan, allowing all family members to stay connected thanks to the unlimited talk and text feature.
- Start small: a pre-paid plan is one way to start kids off and teach them about usage and moderation. They’re also an option for the parent who wants to stay in touch via phone calls, but also feature robust texting options that can accommodate the teens and tweens who live and breathe via text message.
- Healthy habits: establish good mobile etiquette from the start. No phones after 9pm; no phones at the dinner table; no screen gazing when you’re being spoken to; and of course, no cyber bullying or inappropriate use. These are just a few examples, but serve as thought starters to help you establish guidelines for your family.
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to introducing your child or children to mobile technology. From a very early age, kids gravitate and quickly adopt the motor skills required to open smartphones, navigate apps, and touchscreen their way to their favorite video or interactive game. As technology begins to play a larger role in how children learn and relate to the world around them, decisions need to be made as to when, why and how your child will take part. Hopefully, we’ve been able to provide you with some information that will make those decisions easier. And of course, if you’ve got any advice or tips to help fellow parents navigate the tech world with their kids, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.