You Just Bought Your Kid a Smartphone. Now What?!

If you are like many parents, you may have given your child a new smartphone or tablet as a gift this year. But what did you do as soon as the device was charged up and ready to go?

This is where modern parenting truly begins.

A child receiving a smartphone as a gift is similar to the gift fantasy that many parents hold—getting a shiny new car with an over-sized red bow waiting in the driveway. Both gifts can be lead to adventures, convenience, and staying close with others. Of course they can also lead to accidents if mishandled.

Luckily for you, you've taken a test and participated in a driver’s education class. You also have years of experience under your belt and have a solid understanding of the risks involved. But what about your child?

The typical guidance and support that is offered in the offline world should also take place in the online world. Similar to a parent teaching a teenager how to drive, parents also have a valuable role in raising their child as a responsible digital citizen. That’s why the Google search for “parental control” goes up dramatically at the end of the year, right as devices are being bought (it went up 335% last week). Parents are looking for way to parent in the online world.

Modern parenting strikes a balance in oversight that allows for emotional growth and personal autonomy, while also presenting opportunities for to have teachable moments. Here are 4 quick tips to help you navigate tech as a family:

1. Keep an ongoing conversation about tech use

Similar to wanting to know who your child is friends with, modern parenting entails a fluid conversation about the sites and apps that your child is using. There is a major gap in understanding between a parent and a child: open communication can greatly reduce it.

Your child, as a digital native, may be more tech savvy than you. Instead of this being seen as a negative, it can be reversed around as a positive. Let your child teach you what they know.

2. Think before posting

Our mobile devices provide us with an interconnected world where we can instantly post pictures or comments — often before we have considered the ramifications of how the picture or comment with be interpreted. Unlike a comment said in real life that is typically only in the memory of those in attendance, comments and pictures posted online through mobile devices have the potential to live forever.

Popular programs like Snapchat, offering the promise of impermanence, are a double-edged sword that parents should have a conversation about. On one hand, they present an opportunity to remove potentially embarrassing conversation away from one’s digital footprint. On the other hand, the reduced searchable activity often makes it more difficult for parents to understand when objectionable material is being posted by their child.

3. What looks real online might not be real offline

Parents should have a conversation with their child about authenticity. It is extremely easy for someone to setup a fake profile for the purposes of identity thief, inappropriate interactions, and cyberbullying. The concept of “Trust but verify” applies to mobile devices; parents should be mindful of who their child is communicating with the increase the chances of detecting fake profiles. Children should also be extremely careful connecting on social media with people that they do not personally know from school or elsewhere.

4. Be mindful about personal information on public profiles

The audience you expect to see a public profile and the audience that actually sees it may be very different. While a child may be comfortable giving their home location, actual location (based on GPS), and revealing characteristics to their friends, it should be assumed that others may see if the information.

Children should turn off the often default setting of geo-tagging with pictures to prevent the inadvertent release of location when posting on sites like Instagram.

Let’s navigate tech together! (Watch our video for more)

*Photo is “Stunned” by Casey Fleser; Creative Commons, Flickr.

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