5 questions to ask before giving your tween a smartphone

If you’ve considered gifting your son or daughter a smartphone, you’re not alone. In a survey by SellCell last year, about 41% of parents thought a smartphone was the top holiday or birthday gift choice for their teenager. But with Common Sense Media reporting that most (53%) kids have their own smartphone by the time they are 11, and 69% have one by age 12, how do you know when your child is ready for the responsibility — and potential pitfalls — of having the world at their fingertips?

Here are questions you should ask before shopping for their first smartphone.

1. How comfortable is your child talking to you about difficult topics like cyberbullying?

Before you give your son or daughter a smartphone, start having consistent, open conversations about difficult topics like cyberbullying, which can have a lasting and damaging effect on your kids’ mental health.

By creating open lines of communication about these difficult topics now, children will hopefully feel more comfortable reaching out to you if they’re being targeted online, or if they see cyberbullying happening to someone else.

2. Can they handle the responsibility?

What’s their track record getting their homework in on time, remembering their equipment for sports practice or not losing their retainer? If they’re generally responsible, your child could be ready to handle an expensive piece of tech.

If they forgot their lunch twice in third grade, however, don’t hold it against them. Kids grow and change! This is actually a great opportunity to teach them about adult responsibilities, including paying bills and managing money.

3. Do you have tools in place to limit their screen time?

Most kids love video games, and between playing those games, watching TV, communicating with friends on social media and remote learning, your child is likely already spending a lot of time on screens. Access to a smartphone 24/7 has the potential to increase that. By a lot.

Make sure you have strategies for limiting screen time in place:

  • Encourage activities that get your tween or teen away from screens, like arts and crafts, reading, music, sports and enjoying the outdoors, to ensure that all their recreation and fun doesn’t come from tech gadgets.
  • Explain why screen limits are important for their health and well-being. Discuss reasonable time limits, keeping tech out of their bedrooms and screen-free times, like meals.
  • Use a comprehensive tool like Circle Parental Controls to limit screen time both in- and out-of-home. With a device and app, Circle makes it easy to manage all Internet-connected tech on your home Wi-Fi as well as on your children’s iOS and Android devices, even when they’re connected to data plans or guest Wi-Fi networks. No matter where they go with their mobile devices, you can rest assured they’re accessing safe content and not overdoing it.

Concerns about screen addiction are real, so it’s important to be aware of these dangers. Make it clear that along with the gift of the phone comes rules about when — and for how long — your child is allowed to use it.

“With a phone in their hand, your child could be spending endless hours online,” says behavioral addiction expert Dr. David Greenfield, Founder and Medical Director of the Center for Internet Technology and Addiction. “Setting screen time limits is vital for your child’s emotional health as well as their psychological, physical, and cognitive development.”

4. Do you have parental controls tools to block inappropriate content?

It’s a real concern — with access to every image, app, video, website, and article on the web, you want to know your child won’t stumble onto something that’s harmful, or that they’re not ready to see. When you’re ready to give your kid their first smartphone, you can enable search engine settings like Restricted Search on YouTube and SafeSearch for Google and similar sites through Circle’s Filter feature to prevent the wrong kind of content from ever reaching their phones.

5. Why should my child have a smartphone?

The advantages of your child having a smartphone go well beyond their ability to chat with their friends or play the latest game. The more your tween or teen starts to venture away from home, the more important it is to be able to reach them wherever they are. You will have much better peace of mind when they can reach you right away in case of an emergency.

Beyond those practical concerns, having their own smartphone offers kids a chance to learn about handling more responsibility. With a little guidance and the right tools, your son or daughter can learn to develop independence and good habits for screen time and proper smartphone use.

Before you wrap up that new smartphone for your child, give yourself the gift of knowing that your child’s smartphone experience will be safe for them. Learn more about managing screen time and online safety at Meetcircle.com/screentime.

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