So my youngest child recently turned 12 and all she wanted for her birthday was an iPhone. Did you know she was the only student in her school of over 1,300 students without her own cellphone? Well, at least that’s how she described the dire situation.
Hyperbole aside, I knew that this day was on the horizon and that I would have to give in to this request sooner or later. She had gotten by for the first half of her initial year in middle school without a phone and had proven herself to be responsible in her use of her iPad while she was at home. During this time, I got to see all of her incoming and outgoing texts to monitor who and what was being discussed. Most of her limited online time was spent on Instagram or texting a small circle of friends. Since her older brother’s recent college break, she has added Fortnite to her online time.
However, my main reason for giving in was to provide her with a phone that would be able to connect her with us when she was after school for extra help, walking home from the bus stop, or at a friend’s house. It does provide peace of mind knowing that your child can get in touch if needed. Of course, this is offset by the additional worries that come with giving your 12-year old a web-enabled device that has access to countless apps and social media platforms.
Now that we are over 10 years into the iPhone era, there are a lot more tools available to assist parents in supporting their children with both responsible and balanced use of their new device. One of the first things I did was create an Apple ID for my daughter which is linked to my account through family sharing. This allows me to approve any apps that she wants to add to her iPhone. There are a number of other restrictions that you can add for your child, depending on your comfort level with online games and playing online games with friends and/or strangers.
The more important part from my standpoint is to have conversations with your child and set up agreed upon parameters for when and how much time should be allowed daily for online games, apps like instagram, texting and chatting with friends. The whole cell phone dilemma with kids can be overwhelming to navigate for parents due to the fact that we really don’t have any firsthand experience from our past to draw upon. I strongly suggest taking a look at Common Sense Media’s Cell Phone Parenting resources. They have a great list of basic rules to review with your child to help you feel more at ease.
One neat trick to check in on what your child is up to is to go into the settings and click on the battery usage. (See above) When you click on the battery icon, you will see all of the apps used over the last 7 days and you can click on any of them to see how many hours they have been used over both the last week and the last 24 hours. Looking at this data is helpful to have conversations about constructive online time and balance.
While there is no perfect way to start the cell phone journey with your child, it is a lot easier to start with some concrete expectations and discussions around the importance of balance and digital awareness. It can be a great learning opportunity for both parent and child.