5 ways to get smart about parenting a child with a smartphone

My kid’s smartphone? My kid doesn’t have a smartphone and never will, I can hear some of you saying. I, too, swore my children would never have smartphones. Not only was I convinced they would kill their brain cells playing video games all day and never learn how to talk to other human beings as a result of texting, I was also pretty sure they would get addicted to porn and trashy YouTube videos which would surely lead to a life of ruin. All because of the evils of technology.

It should be noted that this was before I got my own smartphone and before my kids were old enough to want their own. Now that we’re there (been there for a while), my feelings have changed entirely. The reality is, smart phones aren’t going anywhere, and technology is advancing faster than ever. More to the point, smartphones rock. My smartphone (Apple, I love you) is the hardest working tool in the house, and smartphones can be invaluable tools for our children as well. (Let’s start with the dictionary.com app for example . . .)

Sure, you may think a smartphone is an unnecessary accessory or diversion, but your kids will have one at some point, so you can either decide to help them learn how to manage that type of technology while they are under your influence, or you can let them navigate that transition on their own once they leave home. I choose the former. (Besides, there is nothing inherently “good” about resisting the advancements of technology and making your child the last — or only — person in their school without a smartphone. What’s the point of that, really?)

So why not just get them a regular cellphone with texting capability? (In case you aren’t aware, the difference between a regular cell phone and a smartphone is the difference between having a portable phone and having a portable phone with the abilities of a computer in your pocket.) We considered switching to cell phones with text only this year when our second child became old enough for a phone (because the smartphone has been a problem at times for our first child), but there was only ONE available among dozens of options at the store we were in, and after talking about it, we came back to the conclusion that eventually they would have one anyway, so we might as well help them learn how to use it responsibly now.

The fact that is has been a problem at times for our oldest child only reinforces my feeling that we need to figure this out together as a family. The smartphone phenomenon is still a relatively new thing for all of us, and parents are just as susceptible to the inherent problems of smartphone use (or overuse) as their children. As the first generation of parents to deal with this unique blessing and challenge of advanced technology, we should be jumping at the chance to help our kids through this transition, not shying away from it hoping smartphones will go away. They’re not going away, and they’re a fantastic tool when used appropriately.

Keeping all of this in mind, here are a few of my ideas for making the relationship between you, your child, and the smartphone a good one. (And I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section below.)

  1. Don’t get them a smartphone until they need one. OK, so no one really “needs” a smartphone (kids can survive with call and text only features), but they are kind of becoming ubiquitous among older tweens and teens. I’m not advocating the “everybody else has one” mentality, but kind of. At the very least, it makes sense for kids to have some kind of cell phone (regular or smart) once they are old enough to be away from a parent more often than not (i.e., middle school or junior high). I can’t tell you how many times we have used our phones as a family to communicate with each other about where we are, who is picking up who, etc. (Often in real time, as in which side of the building are you standing in front of?) The basic cell phone is an invaluable tool for every parent when it comes to keeping track of their kids and communicating in general, but if you think of a cell phone as a tool, then a smart phone is a cell phone on steroids. I mentioned the dicitonary.com app, but that’s just the beginning. I don’t have the time or space to go into all the fantastic features available on smartphones, but why not let kids take advantage of and learn how to use this technology? Sure, we lived just fine without cell or smartphones for the entire history of mankind, but why not use the best tools currently available?
  2. Let them know whose phone it really is. Even if they earned the money to buy the phone themselves, you are most likely paying for the monthly plan that allows them to use it. Remind them whenever you need to that the phone (or at least, it’s use) actually belongs to you and you can reclaim it at any time, for any reason. (Like not finishing homework or chores, or spending too much of their free time on it, or posting inappropriate things on Facebook or Instagram, or failing to pick up or text you back when you are trying to reach them about where they are.)
  3. Get a mobile spyware program. If you’re really concerned about what your child may be doing/viewing on their smartphone (I am), you may want to invest in a mobile spyware program (like MobileSpy) and let them know you will be monitoring their activity. I don’t have a punitive style of parenting, so I am very clear with my kids that I am doing this for their safety, not because I don’t trust them or because I am trying to “bust them.” Most kids will see or do something inappropriate on the Internet at some point, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open and be able to talk to them about it when it happens. A spyware program helps you make sure they aren’t doing/viewing anything inappropriate on a regular basis that they are too embarrassed to talk to you about. (Which, of course, they will be!) Again, do you want this to happen now while they are living at home, or when they are 18 and on their own?
  4. No passwords allowed. I know one mom who reserves the right to check her son’s phone at any time, no questions asked. And it’s a good thing, because that’s how she found out there were two very sexually aggressive girls trying to engage her son through text messages. Tough moms aren’t afraid to take control of their kids smartphones and know what they are doing on them. That’s what parents are for. Our kids may hate us for it, but they will thank us later.
  5. Have phones checked in at certain times of day. I know another mom (I’m so thankful for other great moms!) who has a basket specifically meant for phones to be checked in after school. We have a charging dock in our kitchen where they get checked in every night (or sooner, if it’s a problem). I also love the idea of having certain times each day or even most of one day a week (for us, that’s Sunday) when everyone unplugs and reconnects with each other.

Most of us aren’t going to do this perfectly, and there will be many bumps along the way, but working together as families to learn how to use technology to our advantage is one of the best things we can do for our kids growing up in the 21st century. Believe me, I wish I were living back in the ’50s most of the time, but rather than wallow and whine about all the reasons it’s so hard to raise kids in the 2010s, I prefer to take charge and make the best of it. And for me, that means getting smart about my children’s smartphones.

QUESTION: What’s your take on kids having smartphones? Should they have them? At what age?

CHALLENGE: If your kids aren’t old enough for smartphones, now is a good time to think about your philosophy and make some decisions. If your kids already have smartphones but you aren’t managing them well, now is a great time to reassess and come up with a better system.

4 comments

  1. Suzie

    Speaking as a teenager, I really think phones are not a benefit to teenagers. I’ll give you a few examples why.
    1. I often find myself sitting and waiting for something, surrounded by my peers, and with not a single person to talk to. Why? They’re all too busy playing on their phones to socialize. If I ever have the gall to try and interrupt, I just get a distracted answer before they ignore me and go back to their phone. And that’s a best-case scenario.
    2. I do not have a phone. This means all plans need to be laid out to my parents before leaving, and any backup plans included. I know other kids my age with phones who do whatever they want and expect their parents to call if they’re worried about where they are. Not a usual occurrence, but it happens.
    3. This one might just be an annoyance to me, but people seem to devalue knowing things. Why bother to remember something when you can just google it on your phone? There has been study after study showing that memorization is good for more than just memorization skills. It develops new neuron pathways and enables you to be a better problem solver as well as memorizer. But it doesn’t happen anymore.
    And there you have it. Admittedly these are just from my perspective and some might be wrong, but that’s why I am against smartphones for teens. Actually, none of these are applicable to just teens. So for anyone with a smartphone: keep these in mind and see if you’re guilty of any of the following. If so, change, by whatever means necessary. And if teens can be trusted not to do these things, by all means allow them a smartphone.

    • Bianca@SociallySavvyKids.com

      To Allyson Reynolds: This is a wonderful article. I wholeheartedly agree with your viewpoints. I wish every parent would read and follow the guidelines. So much heartache and so many mistakes that kids get into would be avoided if they did.

      To Suzie: Your response was FANTASTIC! Clearly, you have wisdom and experience with life well beyond your years! YOU GO GIRL! May I quote you in a blog on our website SociallySavvyKids.com ?

      Thank you so much for your insights and wisdom!

    • Allyson

      No one NEEDS a smartphone, no more than anyone needs an electric lawn mower, a microwave, or a home computer. It’s just that it’s the best technology available and allows us and our children to have the entire world’s worth of knowledge at our fingertips, as well as incredible capabilities for communicating and creating. It’s all about your paradigm. In my opinion, those who view advancements in technology as irrelevant and unnecessary or with fear and suspicion will be left behind and miss out on some great opportunities that could possibly enrich their lives. Would love for everyone to watch this TEDx presentation from my friend, Scott McLeod:

      http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/2013/09/my-tedxdesmoines-video-from-fear-to-empowerment.html

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