What age is appropriate for a kid to have a mobile phone?
That's something for you and your family to decide. Consider your child’s age, personality, and maturity, and your family's circumstances. Is your child responsible enough to follow rules set by you and the school? When you decide your children are ready for a mobile phone, teach them to think about safety and responsibility.
Phones, Features, and Options
Decide on options and features for your kid's phone. Your mobile phone company and the phone itself should give you some choices for privacy settings and child safety controls. Most carriers allow parents to turn off features, like web access, texting, or downloading. Some cell phones are made especially for children. They're designed to be easy to use, and have features like limited internet access, minute management, number privacy, and emergency buttons.
Be smart about smart phones.
Many phones offer web access and mobile apps. If your children are going to use a phone and you're concerned about what they might find online, you can choose a phone with limited internet access, or you can turn on web filtering.
Get familiar with social mapping.
Many mobile phones now have GPS technology installed: kids with these phones can pinpoint where their friends are — and be pinpointed by their friends. Advise your kids to use these features only with friends they know in person and trust, and not to broadcast their location to the world, 24-7. In addition, some carriers offer GPS services that let parents map their kid's location.
Develop Cell Phone Rules.
Explain what you expect. Talk to your kids about when and where it's appropriate to use their cell phones. You also may want to establish rules for responsible use. Do you allow calls or texting at the dinner table? Do you have rules about cell phone use at night? Should they give you their cell phones while they're doing homework, or when they're supposed to be sleeping?
Don't stand for mobile bullying.
Set an example.
It's illegal to drive while texting or surfing or talking on the phone without a hands-free device in many states, but it's dangerous everywhere. Set an example for your kids. Talk to them about the dangers and consequences of distracted driving.
Mobile Sharing and Networking
Networking and sharing on-the-go can present unique opportunities and challenges. These tools can foster creativity and fun, but they could cause problems related to personal reputation and safety.
Use care when sharing photos and videos.
Most mobile phones now have camera and video capability, making it easy for teens to capture and share every moment. Encourage your teens to think about their privacy and that of others before they share photos and videos via cell phone. Get the okay of the photographer or the person in the shot before posting videos or photos. It could be embarrassing and even unsafe. It's easier to be smart upfront about what media they share at the outset than to do damage control later.
Use good judgment with mobile social networking.
Many social networking sites have a feature that allows users to check their profiles and post comments from their phones, allowing access from anywhere. Filters you've installed on your home computer won't limit what kids can do on a phone. If your teens are using a mobile phone, talk to them about using good sense when they're social networking from it.
Whether they are using a smart phone or computer, the words kids write and the images they post have consequences offline.
Kids should post only what they’re comfortable with others seeing. Some of your child's profile may be seen by a broader audience than you — or they — are comfortable with, even if privacy settings are high. Encourage your child to think about the language they use online, and to think before posting pictures and videos, or altering photos posted by someone else. Employers, college admissions officers, coaches, teachers, and the police may view your child's posts.
Remind kids that once they post it, they can't take it back.
Even if you delete the information from a site, you have little control over older versions that may exist on other people's computers and may circulate online.
Tell your kids not to impersonate someone else.
Let your kids know that it's wrong to create sites, pages, or posts that seem to come from someone else, like a teacher, a classmate, or someone they made up.
Tell Kids to Limit What They Share
Help your kids understand what information should stay private. Tell your kids why it's important to keep some things — about themselves, family members, and friends — to themselves. Information like their Social Security number, street address, phone number, and family financial information — say, bank account or credit card numbers — is private and should stay that way.
Talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online.
Research shows that teens who don't talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators. In fact, researchers have found that predators usually don't pose as children or teens, and most teens who are contacted by adults they don't know find it creepy. Teens should not hesitate to ignore or block them.
Encourage Online Manners
Politeness counts. You teach your kids to be polite offline; talk to them about being courteous online as well. Texting may seem fast and impersonal, yet courtesies like "pls" and "ty" (for please and thank you) are common text terms.
Tone it down.
Using all caps, long rows of exclamation points, or large bolded fonts are the online equivalent of yelling. Most people don't appreciate a rant.
Cc: and Reply all: with care.
Suggest that your kids resist the temptation to send a message to everyone on their contact list.
Limit Access to Your Kids’ Profiles
Use privacy settings. Many social networking sites and chat rooms have adjustable privacy settings, so you can restrict who has access to your kids’ profiles. Talk to your kids about the importance of these settings, and your expectations for who should be allowed to view their profile.
Set high privacy preferences on your kids' chat and video chat accounts, as well. Most chat programs allow parents to control whether people on their kids' contact list can see their status, including whether they're online. Some chat and email accounts allow parents to determine who can send messages to their kids, and block anyone not on the list.
Create a safe screen name.
Encourage your kids to think about the impression that screen names can make. A good screen name won't reveal much about how old they are, where they live, or their gender. For privacy purposes, your kids' screen names should not be the same as their email addresses.
Review your child's friends list.
You may want to limit your children's online "friends" to people they actually know.
Talk to Kids About What They’re Doing Online
Know what your kids are doing. Get to know the social networking sites your kids use so you understand their activities. If you're concerned about risky online behavior, you may want to search the social sites they use to see what information they're posting. Are they pretending to be someone else? Try searching by their name, nickname, school, hobbies, grade, or community.
Ask your kids who they’re in touch with online.
Just as you want to know who your kids' friends are offline, it's a good idea to know who they're talking to online.
Encourage your kids to trust their guts if they have suspicions.
Encourage them to tell you if they feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online. You can then help them report concerns to the police and to the social networking site. Most of these sites have links for users to report abusive, suspicious, or inappropriate behavior.
A Word to the Wise...social networking sites like Facebook typically have age requirements, with no one under 13 allowed to have their own Facebook page. Parents are encouraged to think twice before bypassing that system and allowing younger children access. They may be "good kids," but not as mature as you might think when it comes to decision making in the more adult world of social media.
For more information on a variety of topics affecting parents and children, visit the Parent Resource tab on this website.