By Ava Pennington
Mo-om! I need a smart phone! I’m the only kid in class who doesn’t have one. Besides, what if there’s an emergency? You want me to be safe, don’t you?
You do want her to be safe. But it’s difficult to protect your child against danger if she doesn’t know she needs protecting. Dangers used to be tangible. Visible. Identifiable. Not anymore. Now they lurk in your child’s pocket—the same pocket that holds her smart phone.
First things first. You need to determine the right age for her to have a smart phone, and that age is more dependent on her maturity than her school grade. While you may view the phone as a tool, your daughter views it as a status symbol and a ticket to acceptance by her peers. She also wants to feel independent. Having a smart phone is one way to begin.
But does she have the maturity to abide by the limits you set? To have the self-discipline not to respond to spammers? The wisdom to not upload her personal data to potential stalkers?
Although children as young as eight years old do have phones, even Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, thinks that’s too young. He didn’t allow his daughters to have a cell phone until they turned thirteen years old.
Once you have decided to give her a smart phone, here’s what she needs to know before you place te phone in her hands.
1. Privacy does not exist.
Your daughter also needs to remember that privacy doesn’t exist with her peers. A photo taken by a friend in the locker room can easily be sent school-wide. Private texts can quickly become public with the click of a button.
A good rule would be to never text or send a message or photograph she wouldn’t want you to see.
2. Bad guys do exist.
Bad guys exist, but they don’t always wear black hats and sport a handlebar moustache. Your daughter needs to be discerning beyond her chronological age, which isn’t always realistic. So warn her about:
Cyber-bullying can take many forms, including stalking through inappropriate texts, and displays of photos your daughter never gave permission to take.
Apps may seem innocent enough, but they cannot be trusted just because “everyone” downloaded it. Nothing is free…even a free app. The app provider will require something, including access to areas of her phone you may not be comfortable releasing. Claims of anonymity are easily circumvented. GPS tracking imbedded in some apps also enable predators to monitor your child’s location.
Inappropriate pictures and videos
Pictures and videos can be more than just embarrassing. In a moment of poor judgment, your child can either be a victim or a perpetrator. She needs to understand that what can seem like a funny joke can have permanent consequences.
3. Boundaries will be established.
She may chaff at the boundaries, but without them your daughter is at risk. So establish these boundaries in advance:
Establish no-phone zones, including homework time, and after bedtime. Remove the phone to a central place in the house to prevent the temptation to answer a call or text when she should be doing homework or sleeping. Surveys reveal that kids will check their phones to answer texts well into the night.
She needs to understand that calling or texting beyond the plan’s minute and text caps will result in consequences. Decide those consequences in advance, whether loss of phone privileges or payment by your child. One way to avoid this problem is to start with a prepaid plan. The first few times she hits the limit will teach her restraint more effectively than any lecture.
No smart phone while driving
For older teens, it should be understood that she will never use her phone to call or text while driving, regardless of whether local laws prohibit it. Depending on the survey, anywhere from 45 to 75% of teens admit to texting while driving. That’s not just foolish, it’s deadly.
4. Oversight will be practiced
Since you are paying for the phone, your child should understand she does not have an expectation of privacy. She doesn’t own the phone, you do. As such, you have every right to know how and when it is being used. That means:
You will check her texts
She may object to this “violation of her privacy,” but 41% of teens admit to having sent a sexual text (sexting), you need to know what she is sending…and receiving. Let her know texts will be checked against the monthly bill to determine if she is erasing messages to hide them.
You will check her internet history
Her smart phone is not just a phone. It gives her full access to the Internet. As such, the same restrictions you have in place on your home computer should be in place on her phone.
For more information, about dangerous on-line trends, see http://www.crosswalk.com/family/parenting/teens/3-online-trends-parents-need-to-warn-their-kids-about.html.
Consider a sliding scale of accountability. In the beginning, review her phone history daily. As your daughter earns your trust, you may choose to reduce it to several times a week and eventually to spot checks.
5. Avoid a false sense of security.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. Follow these or other recommendations won’t eliminate all dangers. Your daughter still needs to exercise good judgment.
The familiar instruction, “Don’t talk to strangers,” is just as valid on the phone as it is face to face. Identity can still be discovered, even if the site or app claims the assurance of anonymity.
A smart phone is not automatic protection from danger
Your daughter might be tempted into dangerous situations, thinking that if trouble occurs, she’ll simply use her smart phone to call for help. But even if she has access to her phone, help may not arrive in time. Better to not enter the situation at all.
An effective way to ensure your daughter’s compliance with these restrictions is by implementing a contract between you and your child. Both you and she will understand what’s at stake and what’s in place before she receives her phone. If calling it a contract makes you uncomfortable, call it a written, signed agreement. Make it a collaborative process. When your daughter feels as if she has been heard, she will more willingly take ownership of the agreement.
Even if your daughter already has a smart phone, it’s not too late to establish a contract. Fifteen minutes now may save years of heartache later—for her and for you.
Ava Pennington teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class. She is also the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur. Learn more at www.AvaWrites.com