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Screen Smart Parenting

Screen-Smart ParentingOne of the top questions I get from readers is how to control their kid’s screen time. Now that kids have access not only to computers but also smartphones, tablets and other devices it is even more challenging to set up a system to help them be safe and limit the time they spend using devices.  I have explained in many of my posts that I believe helping your kids control their screen time and understanding internet safety starts with age appropriate and regular family communication on those topics.

 

 

Jodi Gold MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that has a unique perspective, especially when it comes to family communication! When I found out that she just wrote a book called SCREEN-SMART PARENTING: Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices (Guilford Press, November 1, 2014, paperback) that had research and practical strategies, I wanted to find out more.

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting Jodi Gold MD1.       What motivated you to write SCREEN-SMART PARENTING?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist.  Every day, I went to work and listened to my patients.  A theme began to emerge.   This one got dumped on text and that one was playing too much World of Warcraft.  Parents were worried that their kids were distracted during homework and increasingly concerned about how their children presented themselves online.  Then I went to pick up my younger children (aged 5, 7, 9) at school and this mom was concerned about too much TV and that one was upset that her 4 year old could navigate an iPhone. I realized that if I listened carefully, I couldn’t make it through the day professionally or personally without confronting the realities of our changing digital landscape.  I wasn’t startled that technology was ubiquitous or that current parents are the last generation of digital immigrants.   I was surprised at the fear and ignorance. Parents, teachers and families were constantly fearful and distrustful.  I went looking for answers on how to embrace technology and use it for good, but found little guidance.

 

At the same time, I had been presenting nationally about treatments for ADHD.  A senior editor from Guilford Publishers approached me about writing a book for parents about ADHD.  I really felt like there were many good books about ADHD already on the market.  I was convinced that the Guilford editors would think that I was scattered and crazy but I told them that I really wanted to write a handbook for raising kids in the changing digital world.  I wanted to reach both physicians and parents.  I had begun to talk about the digital world with my patients and their families within a developmental framework.  We spoke about when children should be reading, making friends and going out alone.  Theses are all normal parts of growing up.  I realized that reading an e-book, getting a phone and creating a social media profile were also part of growing up but we didn’t have any graphs, charts or handbooks.  I wanted to write a book that looked at the existing research and offered concrete recommendations based on an understanding of research and child development.  Guilford didn’t think that I was crazy and they agreed to publish it before I wrote the first page.”

 

 

2.    Tell us about how you brought your background in as a doctor to helping explain these issues?

 

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Both the Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have begun to weigh in on parenting in the digital age.  It is critical that physicians make this a priority for research and policy.  I believe that we should be adding “digital milestones” to our list of developmental milestones and challenges.  I hope that Screen Smart Parenting will deepen the dialogue on raising digital citizens in both the medical and parental world.

 

In medicine, we base our decisions and approaches on double blind longitudinal studies.  When they are not available, we do our best find evidence based research.  The goal is to use sound research to support our medical treatments and decisions.  In pediatrics, we view everything on a developmental framework.  Children are not little adults.  We need to understand children and adolescents from a developmental lens.  We misperceive and mistreat children if we apply adult rules to them.  In psychiatry, we use what is called the bio-psycho-social model.   This means that we try to understand children and adults in a multi-faceted way that encompasses genetics, psychology and the realities of family and home life.  In psychology, we understand human behavior so we can develop incentives and plans that help children internalize healthy behaviors.  We need to use this knowledge as we build behavior plans and create consequences around digital devices.    I used these basic principles from research, medicine and psychology to write Screen Smart Parenting.  I believe that it is one of the first books on this topic written within a medical model from the standpoint of a practicing clinician.”

 

3.   What is screen smart parenting and what areas does your book discuss?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Screen Smart Parents are parents who are thoughtful and communicative about managing digital technology.  They want to cultivate online resilience which scientists increasingly feel is linked to happiness and success in life.  They want to instill in their children the tenets of digital citizenship.  Eventually, screen smart parents will have the experience of being digital natives and citizens.  Right now, most of us are digital immigrants with newly stamped passports and limited command of the digital language.  Screen Smart parents do not need a Ph.D. in computer science but they need to check their fear and be willing to learn from and with their children.

 

In Screen Smart Parenting, I ask parents to figure out their parenting style, understand the digital landscape and develop a family technology plan.  In order to parent your children through the digital landscape, you need to understand your family culture and your own relationship with technology. It’s important to understand the developmental evolution of the use of digital technology: what happens at what age. It’s also essential to get a feel for how digital technology is actually used today by children and adolescents.  In the book, I write about how technology does affect your child’s development.  I also introduce the hot topics that monopolize our conversations from the iBlankie to the proverbial 5 minutes of Facebook fame.  In the second part of the book, I write about different age groups, each of which explains how digital technology intersects with what your child needs to achieve during those years and how you can promote technology as a tool to support, not hinder, healthy development. In the third section, I take a more sophisticated look at children who need more attention and parental involvement and may exhibit red flags for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. These “orchid” children may need extra care and modified digital parameters.  In the conclusion, I used my experience with behavioral interventions and plans, to give parents the tools to build a realistic and effective family technology plan.  I offer age-appropriate templates and suggestions on how to trouble shoot.  The goal is to build a family plan that includes your children’s voice in finding balance and using technology as a tool.”

 

 

4. What’s the right age for a phone/smartphone/social media access?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “This is a personal family decision but I can give you some guidelines as a mother, physician and expert in this field.  Your child will eventually own a smartphone so the question is not “if” but when.  You should give your child a phone when he/she truly “needs” one.  Most kids get their phones and smartphones between the ages of 11 and 14 years of age.  Here is a list of reasons for why you might choose to give your child a phone prior to the age of 11.

  • Parents are divorced and the child would like to have more control over his or her communication with the non-custodial parent, and/or there is shuttling back and forth.  A phone may help with the transition between two households
  • A child is taking long bus rides and needs to communicate with parents for some reason
  • The child has a chronic medical condition and needs a phone in case there is an urgent need to reach parents and caregivers
  • The child has a psychiatric or medical condition that causes her to miss a lot of school.  A phone may help to keep in touch with friends and teachers

It is likely that this decision will be somewhat driven by community/peer pressure.  It is important for parents to be thoughtful about when and how they introduce a phone.  A phone should be introduced in a developmental way (especially if you are giving a child a phone at a younger age).

*I can talk more about social media but similar rules apply.  However, there is some social media that is targeted for young children.  I encourage interested children to start with child-friendly sites before they move onto Twitter and Instagram.”

 

 

For more information, check out her website Screen Smart Parenting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard: Tips and New Features

Facebook Family Tech ChalkboardWhen Facebook reached out to me and other parenting journalists to attend a “Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard” meeting at their campus, I was excited attend a press briefing on their new features.  As parents we have the dual role of using Facebook to communicate with our own friends (and family) as well as advising our teens on topics such as privacy and social media etiquette. Those of us with businesses or websites also use Facebook Pages to engage with our customers or readers.   Listed below is a summary of the topics discussed.

 

 

  • Facebook Groups Updates:
    • Facebook groups is a great way to have separate discussions with different “groups” of friends. I wrote a post (Tips For Moms on Using Facebook Groups) that discussed the different types of groups and details for setting up Facebook Groups. At the meeting we shared stories on how we use Facebook groups.
    • Facebook Groups for Schools: We learned about Facebook feature called “Groups for Schools” which allows people with an active school email address to join groups at their college or university. I am happy that Facebook still has this feature to allow only people in the college (that have the college “email” address) to join the college Facebook group.

     

    Facebook groups for schools

    Facebook groups for schools Photo credit: Facebook

     

  • New Facebook Feature “Save for later” The new Facebook “Save” feature enables you to save items (links, places, movies, TV and music) you find on Facebook for later. From a privacy standpoint we learned that only you can see the items you save unless you choose to share them with friends. This is a feature that is especially important to me  lately because while I find the most interesting articles on my timeline, I rarely have time to read the full article. Now I can “save” it and come back to it! Sometimes I flip back and forth in my Facebook timeline between top stories and most recent to see what articles people are sharing. But I always seem to go back to “top stories” because that is where some of the most talked about articles seem to show up.  My next step will be to create my own Facebook “friends lists” of my tech friends, parenting friends and more to help curate updates on my timeline (which I can now share!).

 

Facebook Save

New Facebook Save Feature. Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

 

  • Facebook Privacy Checkup:  The new Facebook feature called “Privacy Checkup”  offers a guided approach to setting up privacy controls. It will take users through steps to “review things like who they’re posting to, which apps they use, and the privacy of key pieces of information on their profile“. While I already went through the Facebook privacy settings with my teen when he first set up Facebook (and for myself), the privacy checkup is also a good way to have a guided review of settings.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Facebook Login & Anonymous Login: New Facebook login features, announced at the last Facebook Developer’s conference, offers “a brand new way to log into apps without sharing any personal information from Facebook, along with a new version of Facebook Login with even better privacy controls.” The  announcement explained the three new features as:

1. Anonymous Login:An easy way for people to try an app without sharing any of their personal information from Facebook.”

2. Facebook Login:A new version that gives people the option to pick and choose what information apps get.
3. Redesigned App Control Panel:A central place for people to see and manage the apps they use.

 

Facebook Anonymous Login

Facebook Anonymous Login. Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

The ability to signup for new apps without having to share all of my personal information is an option I have been looking for some time. App developers have a year to utilize this new feature so we will see this rolling out soon.

 

 

The last topic we discussed was Facebook Pages. I not only have a Facebook page for TechMamas but also manage some Facebook pages (and ad campaigns)  for clients so this is an area of great interest to me. At the same time, there is so much information to cover on this topic that I decided to split it up to be covered in my next post on Facebook Pages (so keep an eye out for that post coming out soon!).

 

At the end of the event we had a tour of the Facebook Campus and could not help but have some fun in the Facebook store with fellow parenting journalists – including Jessica Rosenberg who helped me model some fun tee shirts!

 

Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard Tour

 

 

Disclosure: The Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard was a press event. This post is a press update.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Moms on Using Facebook Groups

Tips For Moms: How To Use Facebook GroupsHow people communicate has changed significantly thanks to social media networks, especially Facebook which covers family, friends, business networks and more. I have written before about Tips for Parents: Facebook Privacy Settings for Teens but this time I wanted to cover Facebook Groups. It is important that parents understand online security and privacy settings in social networks, then help educate their kids and set up regular communication to help guide them when needed. In addition, moms can use Facebook Groups in several ways to assist in their own communication. I even showed my teen (and did it for myself) how to create a Facebook “close friends” list to see more of their updates on his timeline.

 

 

Lately it seems that every conference I attend, social media groups I am involved with and “In Real life” groups I join use Facebook Groups as communication central. I even have a Facebook Group for a business group I joined in college (made up of business majors from my alma mater). They use a Facebook Group to keep in touch and coordinate events. I recently attended their annual reunion and it was magical to sit with them in real life and catch up on information beyond their frequent online updates.

 

Coincidentally, I was able to join this local reunion because I was in town speaking at a social media conference which used Facebook groups to organize attendee communication.

 

As a mom, Facebook groups are a powerful tool to help organize school, meetup, sports and even fitness group meetups. I just joined a Facebook fitness group with other moms to help inspire us to exercise. My experience as a Facebook Admin for many groups helped me gain information that I have shared with other moms to help them set up their groups. For example, the Facebook Group Admin Help section has basic information on privacy and settings.

 

The most important decision for setting up a Facebook Group is whether your group will be open (anyone can join or be added or invited by a member), private (anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member) or closed (anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member). I view Facebook Groups as set up for group communication. Some of my friends have businesses and they want to communicate with customers. I suggested Facebook “Pages” to them as a great tool for customer and community interaction. My next post will cover setting up Facebook Pages.

 

One of Facebook Group’s features is the ability to store files (including DropBox files). For social media conferences, we create group files that contain everyone’s website URL and social media profiles so we can follow and connect with each other online. You can also load photo’s and video to Facebook Groups. I recently just started using this tool called Canva to create not only Facebook graphics but also Facebook banners for Groups and Pages.

 

I also stress the importance of establishing Facebook Group community guidelines with admins such as banning people who say inappropriate things. Communication can flourish in a Facebook Group that is focused on a theme (i.e. fitness, networking group, conference, mother’s group) and, in the same light, shut down if members don’t speak to each other in a respectful way, keeping inappropriate topics and language off the group’s timeline.

 

Managing any group of people can be challenging, especially one that is online. But with the right guidelines and members, it can be a vital source of connection and information exchange.

 

Facebook did some research related to moms and Facebook Groups and shared it to press. The information below is from that Facebook press release.

 

Facebook Press Release: Insight from Moms Group

 

Access/Usage:

  • Check the Group daily, as often as News Feed
  • Access via both mobile and web; also utilize email notifications to see new items in email and flag for follow-up

 

Why they use Groups

Top Reasons:

  • A robust resource – Group members are from all over the US and the world, so you feel that you can ask a question and get a variety of responses and perspectives.
  • They can relate – Moms can ask any question to see if someone else has gone through the same thing, what the outcome was, any first-hand advice.  Your friends or family may not have children, or children at the same age, whereas in the Group, you can connect with other moms in the same situation that you’re in.
  • It’s separate – The Group is separate from other friends/family/co-workers on Facebook so you feel comfortable posting in a secure, like-minded forum.
  • It’s fast – “It’s so easy to post a question and get several responses within minutes”

 

How they connect w/ other moms

 

Moms use Facebook Groups mostly to connect with other moms outside of their friends/people they already know, in some cases developing deeper connections –

  • “I have friended many of the women in this group, even though I have never met them. I started to recognize certain names and stories. I felt like I knew these women personally. So I would reach out and say hi and then our friendships began.”
  • “There are a few groups that have been spun off from this group. In some ways, there are moms that I see in multiple groups and stay in contact with them more than I see my husband’s posts!”
  • Some noted that the Facebook Group is even more supportive than local meet-ups in-person.
  • “I use a local meet-up group as another source of information and way to meet people, but this group is by far more supportive. Interestingly, my local group has since moved onto Facebook.”

 

How-To

Facebook Groups is an easy way to connect and share things with family or specific sets of people like teammates, coworkers, or anyone with a shared interest. Over 500 million people use Groups each month and hundreds of thousands of Groups are created each day with the goal of connecting with others on common ground.

 

Below are some tips from Facebook on how to create a Group as well as how to continue to maintain a successful and active Group:

 

How To Create a Group:

  • On web: From your homepage, go to the Groups section on your sidebar and click on Add Group. Click Create New Group, from there a window will appear where you’ll be able to add a group name, add members and select the privacy setting for your group. Click the Create button when you’re finished.
  • On iPhone: Tap More, then under Groups, tap Create Group and enter Group name, description, privacy setting, and an icon.  Tap Create in the top-right corner to confirm.
  • On Android:  In the menu, scroll down to Groups, tap Add Group, enter the group’s name and select the privacy setting.  Tap Continue to confirm.

 

How to Join a Group:

Go to the group you want to be part of and then click Join Group in the top-right corner. You can also join any Open group that you see on the About page of someone’s Timeline by clicking Join.

  • You may have to wait for a group admin to approve your request. In some groups, you can also be added by a friend who’s already a member.
  • Customize Your Groups Privacy Setting: You can select one of three privacy options for each group you create: Open, Closed or Private.
  • Open: Anyone can join or be added or invited by a member
  • Closed: Anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member
  • Private: Anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member.

 

Tips for Creating and Maintaining a Successful Group:

  •  Post Early & Often: Groups are more successful when the Group founders visit the Group early in its existence and post more often – get your Group started with posting on topics that encourage members to engage, share from the get-go and Like posts from other members.
  • Spread The Word: Groups thrive when more than just the original Group founders invite people to join – add additional people as administrators for the Group and encourage other Group members to invite their friends or networks. For Open groups, add tags like life, sports, food, and more so that other people can find your Group and join.
  • Make it Visual: Facebook found that flourishing Groups include logos, pictures, descriptions, or other visuals.  Consider adding a link or visual to every post on the Group page. You can also add files to your Group – here’s more info on sharing stuff from your Dropbox with your Facebook Group.
  1. On your group’s page, start a new post and click Add File. You’ll see a “From Your Dropbox” section next to Facebook’s regular file uploader.
  2. Click Choose File. If you haven’t already, sign in or create a Dropbox account. If this is your first time, you’ll also be asked for permission to link your Dropbox account to Facebook.
  3. Select the file from your Dropbox, and a link to the file will be added to your post. You can also include a message with your post.

You can curate your News Feed for content posted to your Groups.  If you’d like to modify what you see from your Groups in your News Feed, click on the drop-down in the upper right hand corner of a post on News Feed, and select one of the following options:

  • I don’t want to see this
  • Unfollow your Friend
  • Unfollow the Group

 

You can also control the Notifications you receive from your Groups.  On the Groups page, click on “Notifications” in the upper right hand corner and select one of the following options:

  •  All Posts
  • Friends’ Posts
  • Off

 

 

How do you use Facebook Groups?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post.

 

 

 

Pantech Vybe Review: First Phone For Kids

Pantech vybe first phone kidsBack to school is a busy time for parents, preparing their kids for the classroom, fall sports and other activities. Choosing a new phone and managing cell phone use is also at the top of many parents’ list. Kids nowadays use phones as one of their main forms of communication with other kids as well as pesky parents who pick them up and drop them off places. I covered the topic of deciding on the right age to buy a phone and tips on setting up your kid’s first phone in a recent back to school post.  I drove to the AT&T store myself to try to figure out which phone I was going to buy for my twin boys who are starting middle school. After receiving an email about the Pantech Vybe, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins.

 

As I mentioned in my “tips for buying your kids a phone” post, I believe phones should be given to kids on an as-needed basis. My kids are taking the bus, riding their bike or walking to school and activities on their own now we decided it was time for them to have their own phones. Because they are just starting middle school, I just wanted to have the ability to call, text and use phone tools while not using any social network or the mobile web. The Pantech Vybe is a great first phone because in addition to making calls it has a slide out keyboard that’s perfect for texting and has its own operating system so kids can’t use app stores to load up on apps and games. We also found it helpful to have the option to disable data on the phones if necessary.

 

Of course at first we the kids pushed back. They wanted an iPhone or another fancy smartphone like some of their other 11-year old friends. Beyond being RIDICULOUS that 11 year olds have full featured smartphones in the first place, tweens especially may not understand the consequences of all of their actions – so why give them mobile tools to do so?  We do believe as a family that all kids should be educated and make informed decisions about Internet safety but temptations and peer pressure can be hard for tweens/teens to resist. Already one of their peers is posting things on Instagram that are pretty alarming for their age group.  While many kids have full access to browsers and apps on tablets, desktops and laptops at home – at least those devices are being used at home and not being taken with them every day and used without supervision.

 

PANTECH VYBE SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
FEATURES:
Here are the features of the Pantech Vybe:

  • Slide-out QWERTY Keyboard
  • 3.2” Touchscreen Display and 3 Customizable Homescreens
  • Hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command button”

 

The user manual has information on setting up and also found the Pantech support section of the AT&T website useful because of the setup videos.
pantech vybe home screen

 

Touchscreen Display, Navigation and Customizable Home screens:

The touchscreen display is 3.2 inches and can be customized with favorite apps such as notepad, calculator, contacts and more.  There is even a hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command” button. Pantech included a proprietary dual-user mode: “Easy Mode has one home screen and a simplified menu for a truly intuitive user experience. Advanced Mode is customizable and offers more options and flexibility. You can safely switch back and forth between modes without losing your contacts or favorites. ”

 

What I found useful to understand is that there are two types of “menus” in advanced mode. The main menu is called the home screen (starting point for using applications on your phone) . The home screen can be customized with a picture or standard backgrounds (customizable from “display” section of tools). One of the home screens can be customized to display shortcuts for favorite apps (Max 9 icons can be added) and another for web addresses. Once the main screen is set up it is simple to use the phone (unlock, tap and go).
The second menu is listed on the home screen in the navigation at the bottom as “Menu”. This has access to load lots of different tools (more than the 9 max on the home screen). In the tools area we loaded shortcuts for pre-loaded apps such as sketch pad, notepad, calculator, alarm clock voice memo, pictures, address book, video player, and camera.

 

Entertainment:
The “My stuff” folder has applications, games, audio (alert tones and ring tones), music, pictures, video, other files and info on memory. Available games include brain challenge and UNO (we bought the full version of Uno). You can insert a memory card if you wanted. For kids who do have data plans there is a video player and for those who want to load music there is a music player. The help section of the website has instructions on how to transfer music to the Pantech Vybe.

 

What I like about the Pantech Vybe is that it does not have access to an app store so kids are limited to what is loaded on the phone. As I said in my “getting your kid their first phone tip post”, having access to app stores can be expensive and give access to inappropriate apps for kids.  While the Pantech Vybe does have Facebook, Twitter and mobile web apps – I explained to my kids that we blocked the data plan so they can’t use those apps anyway.

 

AT&T Services:
Along with the other apps, the Pantech Vybe has AT&T services apps preloaded such as like AT&T Navigator, AT&T Address Book, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Drive Mode and myAT&T so I can help them see their account information.

 

Specifications:

The specifications have the phone at just 4.94 ounces so it is light for the kids to either carry in their pocket, bags or backpack pockets. It is also slim at just 2.32 inches width and 4.49 inches height (depth is only .51). The 3.2″ TFT Touchscreen Display has nice resolution (240 x 400) for a first phone and the touchscreen makes it more intuitive to use. Calls made to my sons on the phone sound great. I am able to hear them clearly and they have been able to hear me (even if they don’t want to!).

 

The proprietary operating system (Pantech Proprietary J2ME)  gives me comfort that they can only use the apps pre-loaded on the phone.  The Pantech Vybe has cellular technology to meet my kids need (2G – Quad Band (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) – (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) 3G – Tri Band (UMTS/HSDPA) – (850/1900/ 2100 MHz) and Bluetooth if they want to use it with wireless accessories.

 

Overall my kids are very happy with the phone and were able to start using it without any instruction from me. But we did of course spend the time to go over the family phone use rules, multiple times to make sure they understand (even though I had to hear “I KNOW Mom!!” multiple times).   With the Pantech Vybe I have the comfort of knowing they can call and text with a phone that has all the features they need right now (as a middle schooler) without having too much access to the wide range of apps available on other smartphones and in other app stores. When my twin boys turn 13, maybe we will allow them to use the Pantech Facebook app

 

Pantech Vybe Overview from press release:

Purchasing your child’s first mobile phone has become a rite of passage for tweens and young teens, and parents too. The big question looms: Is your tween ready for a cell phone?  The Pantech Vybe is a great compromise, offering your child plenty of must-have features like messaging, easy camera access and social media without unrestricted access to apps and a high data plan. The Pantech Vybe is your solution.

The Pantech Vybe is an affordable, easy to use quick messaging phone, with access to the features and apps kids want at a price parents love. With a low-cost monthly plan for talk and text, the Pantech Vybe is an attractive option to add to a family plan at an affordable price.

In addition to being budget-friendly, the Pantech Vybe is tween and teen-approved with a slide-out keyboard for quick and easy texting, social media shortcuts, quick camera button, multiple customizable home screens and music and video players.

 

The Pantech Vybe is $29.99 with a two-year contract and can be purchased exclusively at AT&T. For more information on the Pantech Vybe, visit MyFirstPhone.com”.

 

 

Here is a video I received with the press release:

 

 

 

Disclosure: I have received products for review purposes.

 

 

 

Top Tips: Choosing First Phone For Kids

Top Tips to Help Kids Choose First PhoneOne of the most frequent requests I receive from parents is to discuss the right age to buy a child their first phone, what type of phone to buy and how to establish and enforce phone usage rules. Back to school is the perfect time for families to create family rules for existing kid phones and establish new rules for kids just starting to use cell phones.

 

Our older son received a call and text only phone for middle school and then a smartphone for high school after he proved he could not only follow our family phone use rules but also engage with us in regular “phone safety” discussions. Now that our twin boys are heading off the middle school, we decided it was time to buy them their first phone and set up new family phone use rules. Here are some of the tips from our experience of setting up our kids with their first phone. Please share your tips!

 

Tips To Buying First Kid’s Phone

 

TIP 1Buy your phone on as as needed basis:

Buy your kids their first phone on an “as needed basis”: I tell parents that the age when their kids should have a phone is dependent on when they “need” a phone.  Just because a third grader may say to their parents, “my best friend has a phone, I should get one too”, does not mean a new phone is one the way. Peer pressure is not a valid reason to get a child their first phone.  One appropriate reason is to keep in touch with your kids when they start transporting themselves to school (via bus or bike for example). But each child has different needs and different timing.

 

TIP 2 – Decide what type of plan (i.e. “emergency only”, voice, voice & text or voice, text and data phone):

 

When my kids started riding their bikes to school in 4th grade we decided to buy them inexpensive “pay by the month” phones that only had minutes for emergencies and were not for regular use. But when my twins went off to middle school this year, we agreed to get them a phone with a voice and text plan so we could communicate with them and they could communicate with their friends. A few of our friends purchased phones with a voice and text plan for their kids because they had multiple after school activities and sometimes needed a way to reach the parents where were driving.

 

Although our family phone plan has shared data, we do not allow them to use the data and can easily track this on the monthly bill.  We can also disable data from their phones if their discipline weakens or they don’t comply. The AT&T website (our phone service) has details on disabling data on phones.

 

TIP 3 – Develop family phone use rules and phone etiquette standards:

 

The most important thing to teach your kid when you give them their first phone is phone etiquette.  A cell phone can be a great communication tool or a tool that can get your kids in serious trouble (even danger). Parents should take the time to first educate themselves then create family phone rules. We started talking to our kids about cell phone etiquette a year before they had their first phone. Now we are creating rules as well as a phone “safe use” contract that they “sign” to confirm they understand. Breaking the rules means they lose use of the phone.

 

We checked online resources including the Common Sense Media Parents Guide to Kids and Cell Phones, Emily Post Top Ten Cell Phone Manners, Parents.com Teaching Kids Cell Phone Etiquette and more. We focused on different types of etiquette including appropriate cell phone voice and texting, cell phone etiquette do’s and don’ts (Common Sense Media),  email etiquette, school rules for phones (don’t use during school!) and overall phone safety rules such as not sharing personal information or location information with anyone but family and friends (and never accept “online friends” you don’t know if real life!).

 

My friend Sarah Granger just wrote a book called “Digital Mystique – How the Culture of Connectivity Can Empower Your Life – Online and Off”.  I recommend this book as a great starting point for parents to educate themselves on the online world. She interviewed me for the book and included something I always tell parents: “Internet Safety is the New Sex Talk”.  This includes cell phone etiquette because it opens kids up to a world of communication between other kids, even if it is just calling, texting, and sharing photos.

 

Most of all, I have written for years that the most important tool for proper cell phone use is active communication between parents and kids. We manage this communication by rewarding our kids for sharing their personal experiences and rewarding this open communication with freedom to use their phones. It has been hard at times, but we have a “discuss anything” policy and try not to be upset when they come to us – even with upsetting news. We want them to feel comfortable talking about their phone use and work with us to navigate the scary waters of cell phone use. When my oldest made a mistake or two in the past we discussed why it was wrong and how he can make sure it never happens again. We do not use apps such as “Ignore No More app” that limit cell phone use when kids ignore their parents calls because they do not treat the underlying issue: trust. Of course, each family needs to choose what works for them.

 

For example, the day oldest son received his first phone he attended a pool party that afternoon where he took pictures of his friends, several of whom were wearing bikinis. Some of the girls were posing in ways that could be seen as provocative and the photos were inappropriate. Luckily, our son showed us the pictures in an effort to comply with the “open communication qualification” for phone use. This gave us the chance to explain why the pictures were inappropriate and he deleted them from his phone. It was an innocent situation, which happens so often, but those are also the most dangerous because the kids don’t know that what they are doing is wrong.

 

We also explained that even if someone else takes a picture that could be perceived as inappropriate and sends it to him – he needs to delete it from his phone right away. If he shares a picture even that he did not take, he will still be held responsible and could even include being arrested.

 

TIP 4 – Choose a Phone:

 

I received an email about the Pantech Vybe phone around the same time I had just been to the AT&T store (my carrier) to look at possible first phone options for my twin 11 year olds.  Because I had already included the Pantech Vybe on my list of phones to investigate, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins. Here is a link to the review “First Phone For Kids: Pantech Vybe Review”.

 

For my kids, we did not want to get them a “smartphone” until they were older. Because they are just 11, we decided that making calls and texting was appropriate for their age (in our family). We also felt that having access to an app store was something we wanted our tweens to do at home using our WiFi only devices.  For example, we set up home tablets to request a password sign-on before any app can be purchased. This allows us to review the app as a family before they download it.  But even then, having access to a device with an app store can have it’s challenges. Both Google and Apple faced lawsuits over in-app purchases by kids. Beyond the cost consequences of using apps, apps that “seem” family friendly can at times lead to inappropriate features. So I always recommend parents use “family friendly” rated apps together at first.

 

TIP 5 – Privacy Settings and Digital Safety Toolbox:

 

To prepare for my kids for getting their phone, I created a list of digital safety tools and phone settings which they later helped me set on their phones. This includes location, which can be a safety issue for young kids.  The tools we implemented include  LoJack for Android, and Find my iPhone to track the device plus apps to track your kids (some of which are covered in this post on Tom’s Hardware “8 Apps for Tracking Your Teens”) including Life360 (family locator, messaging tool and communication app all in one).

 

What was the first phone you chose for your kids and what apps, settings and rules did you set up that worked or did not work?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post. Some items were provided to me for review purposes.