It’s an exciting time for children when they get their first cellphone.
Suddenly parents and caregivers find themselves walking a fine line between allowing their children privacy while trying to protect them from the pitfalls of social media, possible bullying and their curiosity.
A Pew Research Center survey found 73% of parents believe it is acceptable for children to have their own phone only after they have reached at least the age of 12. The survey shows just 22% of parents think it is OK for a child under the age of 12 to have one.
I was given great perspective from a local group of teenagers who all got their first cellphones for different reasons.
High school junior Brady White needed it for school at age 11 to photos of homework and shared books.
When she was 12 years old, now high school sophomore Zeinab Faraj was involved in after-school sports and needed her phone to better coordinate pickup times with her parents.
And high school senior Elijah Tillema got his at age 13, just to fit in with his classmates.
PLUGGED-IN PARENTING: Think you’re in control of your child’s online activity? Think again
Each of their parents set rules and boundaries. But all three agree that a good relationship and level of trust with their parents made those limitations more tolerable.
Where do you start building that relationship?
Parents, you can set screen time limits on your child’s device.
Zeinab, 15, said having social media and the ability to instantly communicate on her cellphone with friends was very overwhelming.
“One of my biggest tips is to definitely set limits for yourself because it’s so easy to get addicted to social media nowadays because it’s just endless,” Zeinab explained. “You can scroll through four hours and not get things done, so setting your own limits in setting your own boundaries is really important.”
The trio of students agreed that this will likely be difficult for first-time phone users to do, so they all suggested that parents set reasonable time limits on their child’s cellphone or tablet.
To set screen time limits, go into Settings on your child’s device. For Apple, tap Screen Time. For Android, go to Wellbeing and Parental Controls. You can also put restrictions on certain apps and limit internet access.
However, Elijah, 17, warned that too many restrictions can backfire.
“I would say it almost did the opposite in the beginning because when somebody tells you not to do something, it almost makes you want to do it more,” Elijah said, with his schoolmates nodding in agreement. “As long as there’s a good level of trust between you and your parents and they’re just not, like, looking over your shoulder all the time.”
Brady took it a step further, explaining that your child can figure out how to bypass some of your restrictions “by downloading third-party apps such as Snapchat, such as Chrome, which can’t be restricted by [Apple’s operating system] iOS.”
He said it’s much more important for parents to understand what each app on their child’s device does.
“Just so you know, like, what they could be doing, what the unique functions are of what they’re doing, and if you need to, know how to restrict those individual apps and applications,” he strongly suggested.
According to the Pew Research Center survey, 86% of parents of a child age 5 to 11 say they limit the time of day or length of time their child can use screens.
Social media expert shares advice
Jacksonville native and social media influencer Taylor Winbush shared a positive approach to controlling your child’s app use, particularly the social media platforms.
The former Miss Jacksonville and Jaguars cheerleader has nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram alone. Help your child create content that’s going to “help catapult them into the career or profession that they want,” she said.
For example, she explained, “If you have someone that wants to play basketball when they go to college, you want to make sure that they’re putting their highlight reels on their page and sharing that type of stuff, so just really making sure that you’re supportive in that area, and I think it’ll be an easier conversation to have with your children, both ways, where they’re able to be receptive of what you’re saying and they’re able to also tell you what they’re doing.”
Winbush also added it’s very important for children to understand that once something is on the internet, it’s on there forever.
The students stressed the importance of having a strong password.
“It’s kind of important to have a really strong password, especially for social media because that link is not only damaging your phone and your social media, but people, like, I could press it because they think you need help and it could lead to a whole other realm of issues,” Zeinab said.
The trio also warned of messages that ask you to click on a link.
“Even if it is a link sent from a friend that you probably trust, like, why would I have won a $12,000 Walmart card? Like, ask, like, ‘Did you really send this?’ And if they say, ‘Send what?’ Then obviously don’t click a link.” So any mysterious links that probably wouldn’t come from the person who sent them to you, just don’t click. And to stay away, quite frankly, from any link that you aren’t recognized, that doesn’t have a description,” Brady said.
And you’ll know if your child is visiting social media or other websites you’ve restricted by observing the types of recommendations these sites will push out on your child’s device.
“So what Instagram and TikTok do,” Winbush explained. “For example, if you’re only looking at food content, they’re going to suggest pages that only have food or the food that you’re interested in.”
Instagram is the social media platform that these three said is best for beginners.
“I think a private Instagram account is the way to go because Instagram is one of those social media platforms that is so flexible. You have the ability to communicate with people, posts,” Zeinab said.
Brady said: “The good thing about social media is that it’s conditional. You only talk to me because I’m allowing you to talk to me. I can block you. It’s simple as that.”
While parents won’t know everything their child encounters, all three students agreed that it all comes back to a good parent-child relationship.
“I feel it’s important to just keep an open line of communication with your child too when they’re using their phone to make sure that, like, they wouldn’t really hide any secrets from you, I feel like connected and keep up with their life,” Elijah said. “Asking about their day, asking how their phone’s working for them, asking them — just be curious about their life.”