So, what should parents consider when buying their own children their first mobile phone? Tech CEOs like Steve Jobs were famously low-tech parents, but while that might have been a viable strategy in the early 2000s, in 2020 its time to face up to reality, with AMTA, the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association's top tips worth taking into account.
Here's what AMTA recommends:
1. Be aware of parental controls available
Today’s children are growing up surrounded by mobile technology and all it has to offer. While the benefits of technology are clear, there are some aspects of smartphone use and access to the internet that demand both awareness and engagement from parents and caregivers.
It is important to stay informed and actively engage with children about how they are using mobile devices.
Before handing over the phone that enables your child access to the internet, you should look at what type of parental controls you can activate on the phone.
Operating systems (including Apple and Android) also have in-built parental controls that can assist in limiting access to internet content, as well as setting parameters for usage and apps.
While these tools can be useful in helping keep kids safe, it is also very important to stay in touch with how your children are engaging with the online world - what they are doing online and how they are using all the digital devices they have access to.
2. Protecting your child’s privacy
Making sure and helping your child understand how to safely manage their privacy on their mobile phone is imperative.
When they first get their mobile phone and set it up, work together to explain how to manage their private information and passwords. Talk to them about only giving their mobile number and personal details for messaging apps and social media to trusted friends who they know in real life and trust.
When it comes to social media, it is essential that their devices PIN or passwords for social media accounts are not shared, not even with their friends. These security features are key to making sure that their phone and accounts are secure.
When they use social media, they should be aware of not sharing too much personal information in posts, such as their address, name of their school, current location or holiday plans. They should also consider limiting their friends list on social media and setting their profile to private, so their profile and posts can only be seen by people they know and want to see it.
Most importantly you should also talk to your child about stranger danger online. Not everyone is who they say they are online. Unfortunately there are people who can pretend to be someone else, including in online games and forums, so it is essential to work with your child to help them understand not to connect or respond to anyone online unless they really do know them.
3. Set screen time limits
Screen time has become a normal part of life for most children and teenagers. When you give your child their first phone, you should consider how you will manage their screen time.
As well as access tools in the device parents can negotiate screen time limits based upon the needs of their child and manage screen time by replacing it with other non-technology / screen activities such as physical activity, reading, creative play, and social time with family and friends.
As part of managing screen time, it’s also important that parents and caregivers set the example in terms of screen time.
4. Understand cyberbullying
Today’s kids are tech-savvy. Your children may know quite a lot about mobiles, apps and social media. But there’s also a lot you can do to help them be aware of issues like cyberbullying and help them understand how to use their mobiles safely and responsibly.
Cyberbullying is most common in late primary school and early high school and many young people have experienced it, so it’s worthwhile talking to your child about how to manage cyberbullying – including asking them to tell you if they are concerned about online behaviours.
Talk to your children about how they are using their phone to communicate with people and familiarise yourself with the privacy tools and settings of these platforms to make sure your children use them appropriately and can protect themselves.
Before giving a child access to a phone, it is also good to teach them about the many forms of cyberbullying and how they should manage a cyberbully if they are ever targeted.
Advise them not to respond to cyberbullying, but rather stay calm and let you know when it happens, so you can plan appropriate next steps, such as unfriending or blocking the person or potentially informing their school.
Keeping an open line of communication with your child about all aspects of the mobile and internet environment including possible concerns can help them feel comfortable in coming to speak to you when they feel uncomfortable about something like a cyberbully.
It’s good to revisit cyberbullying and cyber safety regularly to keep the lines of communication open and remember that as your children grow, the issues that they face on-line will continue to change.
5. Knowing school policy on mobile phones
Mobile devices are a useful way to communicate quickly with your children in emergencies. Thankfully, this is a rare occurrence. There is often concern expressed around the potential misuse of mobile devices during school that could disrupt learning or make the environment less safe for students.
State education departments, school principals and administrators, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, are best placed to determine appropriate policies for the use of smartphones and other mobile devices at school and in classrooms.
So, getting in contact with your children’s school about the measures and policies they have in place will help you understand whether they will even be allowed to bring their phone to school or how and when it can be used while at school, especially if you ever need to reach your child during an emergency.
The use of mobile devices in schools is increasingly common as a tool in delivering education, so learning to effectively manage mobile devices is a valuable skill for students to learn. If you have set boundaries and helped your children develop good mobile phone habits early on, this will help ensure that their phones are a positive part of their life at home and school.