Your child asks for a cell phone. You get them hooked up. End of story? Not quite.
With cell phones, a whole new world opens up for your child. While it's a great opportunity for them to connect with friends, there are new challenges that parents must face. We turned to Dr. Stephanie O'Leary, a clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology, for insider info on the ins and outs of parenting a child with a phone in their hand, because while a hands-off approach is certainly the easiest, it's not always the best choice when it comes to kids and devices.
Start talking, and don't stop
Regular discussions with your child are key, says Dr. O'Leary, as those lines of communication can help prevent problems before they start. Conversations about online safety need to be held before the phone is activated. In fact, one important thing that a child needs to understand from the get-go is that the internet is forever. Whether or not they are chatting via text messages or through social media apps, a screenshot takes just a moment on either end, and can lead to unwelcome results down the line.
Kids often lack vital impulse control that can lead to mean texts, bullying, inappropriate snaps, and more, which can all cause varying states of grief. Dr. O'Leary says, "In some instances, it's sending a provocative picture that can't be erased or taken back. In other situations, it's an angry text that finds it's way to the principal or a joke that went too far resulting in emotional distress for a peer."
Words, and in this case, texts, carry a lot of responsibility. Encourage your child to think before tapping out or snapping something they might regret later.
Review basic safety skills
Dr. O'Leary reminds us that talking about basic safety is vital, and should take place on a regular basis. For starters, it's important your child can identify who they're communicating with, and also, they should be told to not accept messages (nor connection requests) from people they don't know in real life.
Instinct also comes in handy, and your child should be told to trust their instinct if something feels weird or off. Let your child know they can come to you no matter what and you'll work together to find a solution.
Keep an eye on the phone
While looking through your child's texts, contacts, and social media platforms can seem like an invasion of privacy, it's important to keep on top of what your kiddo does on their phone. A quick glance through their contact list and recent texts and messages should let you know everything is on an even keel, and if it's not, you'll be able to take that time to go over your agreement and iron out any issues.
There are several warning signs you can look for, specific to cell phone use, that will tell you when an intervention is necessary. A big red flag? According to Dr. O'Leary, "If your child is reluctant to hand over his or her phone when asked, you should begin to proceed with more diligence." She notes that while this may be a case of simple embarrassment about innocent conversations, it can also be a sign that there are more serious issues at play, such as cyber-bullying or inappropriate photos.
The solution? You'll have to step up your game. Let them know the phone is a privilege, not a right, and be prepared to revoke that privilege if necessary. Increase your monitoring of contacts, social media platforms, and texts, but also keep an open stream of dialogue between yourself and your child.
Another red flag to look for is deleted text messages. Fortunately, for us parents, there are tools out there that can do just that. These apps will keep track of all text messages — incoming, outgoing, and deleted. Dr. O'Leary shares that the deleted texts are the most important to check out. If those messages are innocent, then it's no big deal, but if there are questionable or sensitive topics being deleted, you'll have to sit down and have a conversation surrounding the limits of privacy when texting.
She explains, "Use this opportunity to help your child become more aware of the permanence of text exchanges and to encourage a 'stop and think' approach to messaging. Specifically, pause and decide if you're okay having this message shared with the public. If the answer is no, don't sent it in the first place."
In this together
Navigating through a brand new world of cell phone use and kids can be overwhelming, but you and your child are in the together. Gentle guidance, monitoring, and an open road of communication are vital in keeping them safe and your mind at peace.