My niece’s birthday is coming up, and – no surprise here – she’s begging her parents for a smartphone. They’ve put it off for a few years, but with all of her extracurricular activities, it’s beginning to sound like a great idea.
With my mind on identity theft protection, I immediately began researching if this is a safe idea, and if we can make it even safer for her. She’s a responsible kid, but smartphones open up a whole world of vulnerability for young people. Even the most mature of young people could fall victim to the vortex of social media, shopping, and gaming.
Maturity seems to be a major deciding factor for many parents, but experts say that sixth grade is a great time to start talking about smartphones. Even so, did you know that more than 25% of children ages 2-5 already have their own tablets or smartphones? This percentage jumps to a totally reasonable 56% in the 10-13 age range.
Experts also agree that human interaction is ideal for the development of young people in a wide age range, but if your middle schooler is begging you for an iPhone, you shouldn’t feel guilty for giving them one – particularly if you’re smart about how and where they use the device.
Here are some quick cell phone safety tips for keeping your child safe with their new-found independence:
- Test the waters with a “dumb” phone. Parents can control who can call and be called; set limits on texting; and it doesn’t include a data plan.
- Share the experience. Limit use of smartphones and tablets to shared family areas so that use can be monitored.
- Warn your kids about scams. Shared electronics time is the perfect opportunity to teach kids about phishing scams via email and SMS text. “Smishing” scam artists send text messages with links in them. The rule is: if you don’t know the sender, don’t click. The same rules apply to phishing scams via email, an appropriate lessons for users of smartphones and tablets.
- Set time limits. Half an hour of screen time is recommended for children 4-5 years old; an hour for ages 5-10; and two hours for high school aged kids.
- Download educational apps. Look for age limits in the app store, and fill your kids phone or tablet with apps that are fun, constructive, and learning-level appropriate. And be sure to review this recent blog post on the “do not download” apps for kids.
- Monitor interactive gaming. Online games now have an interactive component in which players who don’t know each other are required to interact. Teach your older kids how to be safe in this environment. We provided some identity protection tips earlier this year: Its fun and games until an identity gets stolen.
- Monitor social media accounts.Talk with your children about what is, and is not, appropriate when managing their social media accounts.
- Put the phone down and get outside. Set aside time to engage with your kids outside, over dinner, or with other forms of entertainment like reading or board games.
Share these cell phone safety and usage guidelines with your kids and set expectations before buying any kind of smartphone. Everyone should be on the same page before committing to a data plan and contract – this will mitigate future arguments about screen time and paying the bills.
I’m so glad I had the chance to do all this research for my niece – now all we have to do is help her pick a phone. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?
Be sure to stay tuned with the IdentityForce blog to learn more about how to keep you and your family safe in the digital age.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Joris Louwes.