5 Tips for Your Child’s First Phone

one tween girl and boy watching their smartphones with emoji icons near the phones

The day your child gets their first phone is almost as exciting as when they get their first car. It’s a big step toward their independence and a chance to show you they can be trusted. A phone is also a great way for you to ensure your kids are safe and to know where they are at all times.

However, getting your child a phone also carries risks, and you want to make sure you put rules and guidelines in place to help them navigate their new device. Let your child know that owning a phone is a privilege, and as long as they follow the rules, a phone can be a wonderful tool for connection. 

So what’s the best way to handle your child’s first phone? Here are five tips to get you started.

Choose the right device 

Choose a device that allows you some control, but that gives your child some leeway, too. For instance, phones that are made for children with restrictions already in place can be too limiting for both child and parent. Standard phones already have plenty of options for parental controls that give kids and parents some freedom.

It’s best to choose a device that links with what your family already uses. For example, if you use an iPhone, it makes sense for your child to use an iPhone as well. That way, you can use the same cloud, have access to Find my iPhone, use Family Sharing, and have more control over your child’s phone than if it were outside your network.

Having phones on different networks makes it more challenging to track, manage, and keep your child safe.

Activate built-in parental controls

Most phones have built-in parental controls, and it’s a good idea to use them. Activate features like screen time, “Ask to Buy,” restricted websites, and app limits. The more parental controls you put on the phone, the less you need to worry when your child uses their phone without you nearby. 

Other tips include setting passwords for in-app purchases and clicking “don’t allow” in the parental controls so kids can’t download, delete, or change apps and information on the phone without your permission. 

Another option is to use a child safety tool like BrightCanary, which monitors your child’s social media use and alerts you when your child is exposed to harmful content. 

Establish boundaries

You want your kids to have a sense of freedom as they grow up, while also making sure they aren’t being exposed to more than they can handle for their age and maturity level. From the start, establish rules and boundaries with the phone.

For instance, put a basket on your kitchen countertop and set a time that the phone must be in the basket at night. This ensures your child doesn’t take their phone to bed and scroll through their phone instead of sleeping.

Other boundaries include using a password that both parents know and that kids won’t change. You can also set rules, such as requiring that your child respond to your text or calls as soon as possible — or you will take the phone away. Put these rules in a digital device contract and have them sign it.

Tech check-ins

Let them know from the beginning that you’ll check in on their phone activity. Don’t have a set day and time that you do this, though. Instead, do random checks of your child’s phone. This will ensure you see the true phone activity, rather than the cleaned-up version you get when they know you’re going to check it. 

Make it clear that you’ll read text messages, check browsing history, and go through their apps. Reassure them this is all for their safety, not because you’re nosy or want to spy on them.

Choose apps together

Let your child know that you will choose apps together. This doesn’t mean your child can’t ask you for a new app, but you’ll review the app together and decide if it is age-appropriate. A good resource is Common Sense Media, but you can also read the app’s description and reviews and talk to other parents about which apps they think are safe for kids. 

It’s a good idea to go through any new app’s settings as soon as you download it to enable any parental controls. 

Final thoughts

Giving your child their first phone can be scary, but it’s a step toward independence and maturity. Plus, it gives you another way to keep tabs on your child in today’s complex world. Establishing rules from the start and following through on them is key.

Don’t let your child have free reign with the phone at first and then try to restrict them. Instead, set the rules from the start and even consider having them sign a phone contract so you are both on the same page. That way, you ensure your child uses the phone according to your guidelines and understands the consequences if they don’t.

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