Odds are, one of the first things your kid clamors for is your phone or tablet, and it soon turns into requests for their very own devices. Before buying your child a phone or tablet, check out this list of things to do first.
Why is this important?
According to a 2019 study from Common Sense Media, “Just over half of children in the United States — 53 percent — now own a smartphone by the age of 11. And 84 percent of teenagers now have their own phones,” NPR reported. About 1 in 5 kids have a phone by age 8.
Dr. Don Grant, the executive director of Resolutions Teen Center, has some very firm opinions about the effects of electronics on kids— and he thinks you should put it off for as long as possible. He points to an extreme example from the inclusion of devices into typical toddler training: “I saw a potty chair that had an iPad attached to it.”
Needless to say, it’s important to consider a few things before buying your kids any kind of tech.
This Checklist Will Help
After counseling countless kids, teens, and families regarding electronic habits and addictions, Grant has some advice for Parentology readers.
“I absolutely think, and I believe this strongly, that you need to talk to your kids before you introduce any device. I mean, that’s just something you set up from the gate,” he says. “So regarding strategies for this kind of thing — for parents, educators, clinicians, whoever it is but certainly for parents — regarding the introduction of any devices, you should do the following…”
Find out what device your child wants, and the reason they’re giving for wanting it. According to Grant, if your child wants a phone to keep in touch with you, that’s probably not accurate. After all, when is your child ever not in the presence of a phone-wielding adult? In the end, it’s all about the apps, no matter whether it’s a phone or an iPad.
Since kids want devices so they can use certain apps, it’s up to you to find out what those apps might be.
“There’s nothing wrong with using these devices to buttress education. I’m all about that and, once they get into school, this becomes a thing,” Grant says. “So with computers, with iPads, and with phones, it’s about the capabilities to get on that internet or to get on these apps where there are some dangerous things that we need to be careful about.”
Make the guidelines regarding devices very clear from the start. Are you planning on blocking some apps, or having parental controls? Be honest about it. Grant refers to this as a “partnership” between you and your child.
Again, set the boundaries from the very beginning. View the online world as something that must be navigated. Grant compares going online as being similar to going outside.
“The first time that you send your kids to school or you send your kids out to the mall, I’m sure that you sit down with them and talk about all kinds of things to be safe. Well, the online world is just the new ‘outside.’ It’s just inside,” Grant explains.
Are you on your devices constantly? If so, you’re not modeling electronic device moderation for your child. Create phone and device hours, so that the whole family takes electronic time off. Grant discourages the use of electronics for small children, because they’re far too stimulating.
“If you’ve ever seen a kid that had an iPad, and then they’re four or five and you try to take it away from them and introduce something like, oh, I don’t know. Blocks. They’re gonna lose their minds,” Grant says. “I saw it at the airport. I was traveling last week. I was presenting at a conference in Dallas and the woman was just trying to go through security. Her kid was about four. She had to take the iPad away just to take the kid through security. The kid had a meltdown. She didn’t know who I was, but she was apologizing.”
“‘I’m so sorry,’ and I said, ‘It’s okay.’ And she said, ‘I never should’ve given him this. I can’t get it away from him.'”
Appreciate and Validate
It’s important that you don’t just denigrate electronics in terms of your children. Kids do amazing work using devices. Make sure you acknowledge the good things. Plus, make sure you praise them for following your guidelines. Trust goes a long way.
Keep in mind, though, that your kids will always be ahead of you. Keeping the devices out of your kids’ hands for as long as possible will give you a headstart.
Kids, especially teens, are often what Grant calls “shady,” and he thinks it just comes with the age group. And even Grant, who works with teens with unhealthy online habits, is constantly scrambling.
“You want to be careful about what your kids are doing online, especially when they are younger,” Grant says, adding that this includes being careful with social media. He repeats, “Especially when they are younger. Once they get ten, eleven, twelve, we’ve lost them. They will find out ways around it. I joke if I’m fourteen steps behind the kids on any given day I am crushing it. Because they’re so smart!”