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Giving Kids a Smartphone Requires Smart Parenting

As this 'Mobile Year in Review' video from Mobile Future explains, mobile use is growing and is becoming the device of choice for youth to connect to the Web and to each other.

What's a Smartphone? What Parents Need to Know
Parents - if you've been thinking about getting your teen a smartphone this holiday season, make sure you're ready to take on the challenge of monitoring your child's smartphone usage to make sure they are using it wisely. One thing parents need to know about smartphones is that they are one part 'phone' plus another part 'mobile computer'. A smartphone is a mobile phone with advanced capabilities, and functions like the combination of a personal computer and a mobile phone, including voice calls, e-mails, text messaging, Internet access and mobile applications or 'apps'.

Untethered Access for Teens Requires Smart Parenting
Giving your child a smartphone is like giving them unrestricted access to the Web, social networks, instant messaging, a host of powerful applications plus voice and text message capabilities in the palm of their young hands. Anything your child can do on a home PC or laptop, they can likely also do with their smartphone -- but away from the watchful eyes of parents, and without any parental control software installed. While your child may have the digital smarts to navigate their smartphone to surf the Internet, check their Facebook wall, download the latest apps and text their friends all at once, they may lack the emotional maturity to understand the consequences of having such a powerful device.

Mobile Tips for Parent and Child
Make sure that you and your child have an explicit and, if necessary, written agreement for appropriate vs. restricted mobile usage. This includes any texting limits or calling restrictions you wish to impose, including rules about long-distance calls or text messages sent after hours or during class. If your child's school has a no texting policy, be sure your child is aware of it and adheres to it, as some schools will confiscate cellphones used against school policy. If you don't want your child to text in the middle of the night, have them 'check in' their cellphone to you before bedtime. Take advantage of cellphone usage controls from your mobile carrier or use the cell phone monitoring feature in SafetyWeb to enforce restricted hours. Talk about whether you'll allow texting or cellphone use during family time, at the dinner table, or while hosting family guests. One of the surest ways your child will learn proper cellphone etiquette is by your example and guidance.

Keeping It Safe with Open Communication
Make sure your child knows s/he can talk to you if anything uncomfortable arises as a result of using a smartphone, including if someone contacts them inappropriately online, sends them a 'sext message' or explicitly suggestive text message, or if they start to feel harassed through their cellphone in any way, even from a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend.

Set Usage Limits or Pay the Price
If your child is anything like the average teen, she's probably sending and receiving about 50 texts a day, or 1500 text messages a month -- with some teenage girls texting as much as 3,000 text messages each month. Unless you want to pay exorbitant texting fees, make sure your family plan has unlimited texting or set a maximum limit on monthly texts with your child so she can meter her usage accordingly.

How U.S. Teens Use Mobile Phones
Here are some interesting highlights from a recent Pew Internet study on Teens and Mobile Phones conducted by Amanda Lenhart:

- Text messaging or texting is on the rise and here to stay. Some 72% of US teens send and receive text messages.

- Parents text, too. Half of texting teens send messages to parents every day.

- Cell phones help bridge the digital divide: Teens from low-income households are much more likely than other teens to go online using a cell phone.

- Most schools treat the phone as a disruptive force that must be managed and often excluded from the school and the classroom.

- One in three (34%) texting teens ages 16-17 say they have texted while driving. That translates into 26% of all American teens ages 16-17.

- Sexting happens, but in a minority of cases: 4% of teens say they have sent a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude image of themselves to someone via text message. 15% of teens say they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude image of someone they know by text.

- Texting is not just social - texting is used by teens for managing school-related purposes as well, with 70% of teens using text messaging to do things related to school work, and 23% of teens texting for school at least once a day.

For more statistics on teens and mobile usage, read Pew Internet's full report available from their site for download.

Mobile Parenting Is Simple with SafetyWeb
SafetyWeb makes mobile safety very simple for parents, with all-in-one activity reports for your child's social networking usage as well as mobile activity reports of your child's texting and cell phone call patterns. SafetyWeb's mobile monitoring feature works with all major wireless providers, and is included in every subscription (only $10 per month, or $100 for an annual plan).

If your child's mobile activity triggers an alert for unusual texting or calling activity, you'll be notified immediately via email or text message so you can further investigate online. Dramatic increases or decreases in texting or calling activity may warrant a conversation with your child as to why activity has changed suddenly over time. Changes could signal potential cyberbullying (as many incidents of online harassment are perpetrated over text messaging or cellphone calls by the bully), as well as new friendships or relationships (not all changes in activity are worrisome - but worth noticing, nontheless).

If your child is using their cellphone during agreed-upon hours of use, then there's probably no cause for concern. However, SafetyWeb will keep you informed if any social networking activity is worth looking into, with bully alerts, profanity alerts, depression alerts, adult friend alerts, and custom alerts specific to your child -- saving you time from having to read your child's every post - a fact that your teenager may eventually appreciate.

Source: Pew Internet Report by Amanda Lenhart, Teens & Mobile Phones

For more Social Networking Tips for Parents, visit our Parental control guides.

1 Responses »

  1. Parents need to know that giving their kid a smartphone gives them access to the internet and things they may not want their kid seeing. I strongly suggest that giving them that should be accompanied with Phone Sheriff. Protect your kids as you give them freedom.

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