Getting Your Kid Their First Phone for the Holidays? 7 Things You Should Do Ahead of Time

By Andrea Nelson
December 14, 2023
Family looking in shop window

You knew this time would come, and now the day is finally here: your kid’s first phone. Before you wrestle with the wrapping paper, stick on a bow, and prepare yourself for preteen squeals of delight, there are some important things to do first. A first phone for kids is a big step, but with some proper planning, you’ll set them up for success by teaching healthy tech boundaries. 

1. Establish rules and expectations 

Be clear with your child that a phone is a big responsibility and that your job as a parent is to provide them with the guardrails they need to learn how to manage it. 

The rules and expectations you set will depend on your child’s age and maturity level, as well as your family values. Some common rules involve when and where the phone can be used, what it can be used for, and who it can be used to communicate with. 

2. Discuss safety 

A phone opens up a whole new world of independence, and with that comes the need to focus on safety. Emphasize the importance of not making their number widely available and only talking and messaging with people they know. This is also a great time to discuss staying safe from online predators

3. Plan for check-ins

Regular tech check-ins are a great way to keep tabs on what your child is doing on their phone. It’s also helpful to establish clear lines of communication so they feel comfortable coming to you for help if they run into trouble. 

Sit down with your child on a regular basis to look at their phone together. Check out things like text messages, browser history, and apps. 

In the beginning, it helps to put these check-ins on the calendar until it becomes a habit. Even if your child is tempted to hide some material when they know a check-in is coming, some oversight is better than nothing.

4. Set up monitoring 

While there’s no substitute for the hands-on approach of regular tech check-ins, it’s also impossible for parents to catch everything. That’s where a service like BrightCanary is a lifesaver. 

BrightCanary uses AI technology to scan your child’s activity on YouTube, Google, TikTok, and Instagram. The app alerts you to any red flags that need your attention, so you can talk about them together. 

Before you hand over their shiny new phone, set up an account on BrightCanary and explain to your kids why and how it will be used. 

5. Review screen-free times and zones in the home

If your child is already using a tablet or other device, you’ve likely already set some rules around where and when that device can be used. But the portable, fits-in-your-pocket nature of a phone can make it tempting to pull their phone out at any time and place. Emphasize that the same screen-free times and zones apply to their phone. For example: no devices in the bedroom, at the dinner table, or in the car. 

6. Set up parental controls 

Take advantage of the parental controls built into your child’s new phone. The options will vary depending on the device, but a few to look for are screen time limits, downtimes when the device can’t be used, content restrictions, and app restrictions. 

Good news if you’re giving your kid an iPhone: Apple devices have robust parental controls that you can set up as soon as your child has their own iCloud account.

7. Implement a digital device contract 

After you’ve decided on the rules and expectations around your kid’s new phone, write it into a digital device contract. This document helps make sure everyone is on the same page and emphasizes the importance of the things you’ve agreed upon.

In short 

Your child’s first phone can feel like a huge milestone. But it doesn’t have to be scary. Set yourself and your kid up for success by laying the groundwork ahead of time. 

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