• thewhitehatter

Is My Child Ready For A Phone

As a social media safety expert, advocate, and coach who presents to thousands of parents throughout Canada and the United States, one question I am usually confronted with is, “at what age do you think a child should own a cell phone.” I believe this question, although well meaning, really misses the point because it’s not about the age of a child, it’s about does your child’s social and emotional maturity and impulse control, allow them to own and operate a phone without direct parental supervision? If the answer to this question is no, then it doesn't matter if the child is 6 years old or 16, they don't have the right to own a cell phone, especially, if they struggle with conflict, have poor impulse control, and can’t honour boundaries. Remember in Canada, to own a cellphone, you need to be 18 unless a parent or adult signs the cell providers Terms of Service (contract). Parents, by signing the Term Of Service for your child, you legally own these phones and not your kids. Cell phones are not a right to have, they are a privilege to have when it comes to children, tweens, and teens. Although I have personally seen children in grade one with smartphones, which is ridiculous in my opinion, according to the marketing agency Influence Central, the average age of a youth owning their first cell phone in Canada is 10 years. According to the Canadian digital literacy group MediaSmart, 24% of students in the fourth grade own their own phone and 85% of students in the 11th grade [1]. It has been my experience that a child’s first cell phone is often not a new device, but rather a hand-me-down phone from a parent, who has upgraded to a new smartphone. I also believe it is important to know that our kids aren’t using their phones as phones. Here’s a break down of what our kids are doing [2]: Texting 88% Instant messaging 79% Accessing Social Media 72% Emailing 64% Video Chatting 59% Video Gaming 52% Messaging Apps 42% When you as a parent decide that your child is ready for a phone, it is very important that as a parent you put in place clear expectations as to how the phone will be used in and outside of the home. We have created a “Family Collective Agreement” that can help you with this important mission, which can be downloaded here: One of the most important rules; the phone will not be used in private in a bedroom or bathroom at younger ages. As a retired police officer, when police became involved in less than desirable online behaviour, here’s what it always looked like: youth with a phone, in their bedroom or bathroom, internet access, without any kind of parental supervision. Setting usage goal posts early on are extremely important, and again our Family Collective Agreement is a good way to start talking about digital expectations prior to the child getting their first phone. When first learning how to ride a bike, do we buy our children the best and most expensive bike on the market ? NO…….. Why because we expect that during the learning process, they are going to drop the bike and have some minor accidents along the way, resulting in the bike becoming scraped and banged up. The same analogy goes with phones. Often I will ask parents why do you want your grade 3, 4, or 5 child to own a phone; the number one answer, “in an Emergency they can call me or I can immediately call them." If this is the main reason, then don't buy them a smart phone, buy them a basic flip phone that can call, text and take/send pictures. A model that I recommend to parents as a child’s first cell phone, the Kyocera DuraXE. This is a durable flip phone that can take the physical punishment of a grade school student. As your child starts to show good judgement and consistent social and emotional maturity with their flip phone, then you can upgrade them to a basic smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy J3. I always recommend a basic Android phone over an iPhone in the younger years because of price; Android phones are usually much cheaper, and Android phones have a greater ability to place third party parental supervision apps on the phone than the iPhone does. Once your child does show you good judgement, consistent social and emotional maturity combined with good digital literacy, then they are now ready to move into a higher-end Android smartphone or iPhone. Parents need to understand that smartphones are the keys to the digital highway, that allow your child to have access to the the Internet, both good and bad, much like any desktop or laptop. Given this fact, I also believe that we should also outfit our kids with digital seat belts, or what I like to call parental monitoring software solutions. Our kids have no right to privacy from us as parents!!! Having said this, our kids can earn their right to privacy by showing us parents good consistent digital citizenship overtime. Once our kids can do this, then I recommend that monitoring software be removed because the kids have earned that right. I also recommend that parents DO NOT use monitoring software covertly and in isolation. If a parent is going to install monitoring/filtering software, let the child know. Also explain to the child that they can earn the right to have this software removed as mentioned above, but that you also have the right to place it back on their phone if they breach any clause in the Family Collective Agreement. When it comes to monitoring a child’s online activity at home via cellphone, laptop or desktop I recommend KidsWifi. This product is simple to use and very effective: KidsWifi When the child leaves the home with a device, where KidsWiFi doesn’t work, then I recommend either the filtering App NetSanity: and/or the monitoring Bark App: I love both products, but Bark is a new class of monitoring that uses what is called machine learning. Here's a great blog post on machine learning from my good friend Dr Sameer Hinduja What is cool about Bark is that it has found a balance between child privacy, and a parent’s ability to monitor for undesirable online behaviour. I have spoken directly to Bark and have been testing their product, and I am liking what I see so far!!! What is also exciting about both of these products is that they can co-exist with KidsWifi, and can be used on both the Android and iPhone operating systems. Depending upon the child, you may want to install KidsWifi with Bark (low risk), but there may be times where you want to combine KidsWifi with Bark and NetSanity (high risk). What is neat about these products, you can pick and choose which ones you want to use based upon risks and needs. The other advantage to this monitoring and filtering software, it allows the child to have a reasonable excuse, should a friend ask them to do something with their phone that would be a breach of one of the terms located in the Family Collective Agreement. Peer pressure can often cause the most well behaved child to do things they normally would not do. By having this software on their phone, it gives the child the ability to say to their friends, “my parents are going to see this and I will loose my phone." In other words monitoring software can help them to “Save Face” in-front of their friends. This is also something you should teach them to say, if placed in a difficult situation by a peer(s) to do something with their phone that they shouldn’t. I also want to mention one more product I have located that is available in the US market, BUT not up here in Canada yet. The product is called UnGlue Like Bark, UnGlue takes an asymmetrical approach to teaching digital literacy through the process of what I call “time management” Unglue is not a monitoring or filtering App, it is an App that teaches kids the digital literacy skill of time management. It sets specific times limits for Apps being used that are agreed upon between parent and child. What is really cool about this App is that kids can earn extra time to stay online by completing chores. This creates the skill of ownership and responsibility rather than entitlement. The other cool thing about this app is that it can be used on cellphones, laptops, desktops and yes…. even gaming consoles. I have reached out and spoken with the CEO of UnGlue and have asked him to expand his product into Canada, and I am excited to share that the company is now moving to make this happen, so lets keep our fingers crossed. For those of you who follow us in the United States, I would strongly recommend you head over to their site and have a look. Like myself, I am sure you will agree that Unglue will be another awesome option in creating good mobile digital literacy. Remember that both the Android and iPhone also have their own native parental controls. that should be put in place as well. To help parents put the settings into play,

Remember that hardware and software are not replacements for good parenting. It is all about parental education, supervision and participation with our kids, combined with hardware and software solutions where reasonable to do so. Remember we need to be our child’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to keeping our kids emotionally, psychologically and physically safer, in how they are accessing the digital world until such time as they are free to go it alone. Cyber Food For Thought Darren The White Hatter Resources: Family Collective Agreement: KidsWiFI: NetSanity: Bark App: Unglue: iPhone parental controls: Android parental controls: Machine Learning: