So your teen got her heart’s desire for Christmas: a smartphone all her own. Now it’s time for a serious upgrade to her cyber safety.
They pleaded. They promised. They vowed eternal gratitude and a lifetime of cheerfully completed chores. And it worked! Is it any wonder they’re over the moon? That first smartphone is a major rite of passage for today’s digital kids.
But as Spiderman, John F. Kennedy and the Old Testament all remind us, with great privilege comes great responsibility.
And there’s no better time than right now - while the novelty (and their gratitude) are still fresh - to make sure your child understands how to stay safe, happy and balanced online.
Sure, you trust your child
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you trust your child, your work here is done. Yes, of course you trust them. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have given them the phone in the first place.
But do you trust the other 4.66 billion people online? That's the real question, says Family Zone cyber expert Brett Lee of Internet Safe Education.
"In today’s online world, kids don’t need to go looking for trouble. It will come looking for them.”
That’s why digital safety is never a one-and-done affair - but a journey that ideally begins from the moment your child takes his first swipe.
It’s essential that open conversations around online life are ongoing, and that parental controls are introduced as a non-negotiable condition of device ownership - right up to and including the teen years.
Digital safety is never a one-and-done affair - but a journey that ideally begins from the moment your child takes his first swipe.
Now that your child has received a new smartphone, it’s time to kick the conversation up a gear, while reinforcing some of the basics of online safety.
Does your child understand how to use location settings selectively? If not, they need to be shown how to protect their privacy - and deter tracking by predators - by adjusting settings on their phone as well as on the apps they use.
Kids can have some crazy ideas about privacy - and charging their phone under their mattress or pillow is not uncommon. There are two reasons to avoid this. First - the practice can easily start a fire. Second - it’s an excellent idea to keep ALL devices, phones very much included, out of the bedroom overnight to ensure restful, distraction-free sleep.
This is a no-brainer - yet the fact is teens frequently neglect to set a PIN. Explain that locking their phone when it’s not in use will deter snoops, hackers and other potential hijackers. (Important: Be sure your teen shares your PIN with you. Without it, you’ll be unable to set up parental controls.)
Your child needs to be aware that protecting their personal information online is so much more than setting their Instagram or TikTok account to “private” (although that’s a great place to begin).
They need to know what’s at stake when an app asks for access to their camera, files and microphone. They need to understand that image-sharing is, by definition, a public act - and that once sent, an image can never be taken back.
If they’re old enough for a smartphone, they’re old enough to be taught to value their own privacy - and to protect it. And your teen doesn’t need to take your word for it. The powerful Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma says it all. Your assignment? Watch it together. Discuss.
Texting and driving
It should go without saying … but we’ll say it anyway. A quarter of all road accidents are now the result of distraction due to phone use. Literally, anyone who texts while driving is risking death. Full stop. (Don’t forget to remind them that on-the-spot fines range up to $1000 for so much as touching a phone while driving.)
If you haven’t already set up a new device contract, now might be the perfect time to consider it. Family Zone cyber expert and psychologist Jordan Foster has created a popular one. Check it out here!
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