What do I need to know about my child’s first phone?

I spent a long time convincing my parents to let me have my first phone and used all the classic arguments about safety and emergencies. In reality, I just wanted to text my friends and avoid talking to girls in person. This was 17 years ago, when the choice of phones was limited to whether or not you wanted a colour screen. Things have changed since then.

Getting that first phone is a big day for kids, but it’s a big day for you too parents. It marks new independence and requires a new level of responsibility from your child.

When is the right time for kids to get their first phone?

Kids come under pressure from their peers to get a phone, and this quickly transfers to you. Be informed by what other families are doing with technology, but your family gets to make their own decisions.

While the average age for a child to get their first smartphone is 10, consider the maturity your kids are showing before taking the technology plunge. If you don’t feel they’re ready just yet, let them know what you expect to see to indicate they are ready – chores, caring for their belongings etc.

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What sort of phone should I get my child?

Some families start with a ‘shared’ phone that belongs to the whole family. This phone is used primarily for safety so a child can access help or transport when needed. When a child is able to operate reliably within this framework, a phone can be given to a child to use independently. First phones don’t have to be brand new – as with cars and clothes, hand-me-downs work well in this scenario. When it’s time for a younger sibling to get a phone, big sister/brother hands theirs down and gets a new mobile.

Start with a phone that has no or limited access to the internet. Prepay plans are a great way to start. Negotiate how many minutes and texts they require each month and find a plan that suits. This is an easy way to keep an eye on their phone usage. Once they have graduated from prepay, consider a sharing plan which allows you to share your data, texts and minutes from your plan with your child.

What are some rules to put in place?

Start as soon as your child gets their first phone. More is better than less at this point – you can always take restrictions away, but it’s harder to add extra ones later. Also, your kids will be so keen for a phone, they’ll happily agree to multiple rules!

Here are a few simple rules for your kids and their new phone –
  • Bedtime  Your child has one and so should their phone. All phones go in a ‘charger basket’ in the kitchen at night – including yours (and then sneak yours out when they’re in bed).
  • Manners – Phones seem to turn kids into zombies. A powerful antidote to this is manners. You don’t look at your phone when someone is talking to you and you don’t bring your phone to the table.
  • Technology-free time – Insist on respect for family and social time. Maintain a standard where technology is not a part of every occasion.
  • Limits – I have heard good parenting defined as ‘the right mixture of love and limits’. Most phones have built-in parental controls and a digi-family agreement is a good idea. You can download one at digi-parenting.co.nz.
  • Communication – Foster an open line of communication with your child about online content. This encourages your child to have a conversation with you if they see/receive anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Getting a first phone is an exciting new journey for your child – but giving them a phone doesn’t mean giving them free reign in this digital world. Stay engaged, learn alongside your child, and put healthy boundaries in place to ensure their safety and enjoyment.

[1] Influence Central. (2016). Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives. Retrieved from: http://influence-central.com/kids-tech-the-evolution-of-todays-digital-natives/