The most important decision a parent will make is how and when to grant their child access to their own smartphone. It is a common question, which is often answered in an ad hoc way, by what is happening in other families. Usually there is extreme pressure because your child’s peers have already received their own smartphone, some as young as eight years old, and your child will want to have exactly what they have – now.

This is a defining moment for you and your child, and it will have consequences in the quality of your relationship as your child’s journey into adolescence and young adulthood. Below are some tips for making this decision:

Clarity about your role as the parent. Your job as the parent is to teach your child how to be a good cyber-citizen, who is not easily duped by the negative influences of sexual exploitation, bullying and addictions hyped in the cyber social realm. You have authority to govern the home and educate your child on how to be secure. This is the authority of protective cover which never expires, but transforms from teacher to counselor and coach as your child learns how to take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions in every stage of their life. So there must be open communication and common user discipline between you and your child when you issue him his own smartphone, so that you can impart your wisdom as your child experiences the ups and downs of their own life on and off-line.

Establish clear criteria in your home for use of a smartphone. Much like preparing your child to drive a car, before you issue your child her own smartphone, she must understand the responsibility and good judgment that she must show you in how she responds to the limits and rules of your home, and how she treats others. In the Core Connectivity Fresh Start manual, there is a “cyber rites of passage” matrix on page 29 and page 67 goes into greater detail about the various age-appropriate levels of being a cyber-safe user of devices and apps. Our cyber rites of passage guide suggests that the “Junior Explorer Level”, ages 11-15 years, is the stage when your child should be ready for independent use of devices and apps, with parental oversight. This must be clear to your child, so that he can appreciate that this cyber connectivity is a privilege that comes from correct thinking and actions; no it is not a right.

Selecting the right smartphone. The smartphones are all very similar in functionality: voice, texting, camera, and access to download and operate apps. It is a mini-computer that wields great power to connect with people and ideas and experiences around the world. The best approach is to make a minimal investment in the device as a first time experience, and establish parental controls with house rules, including a time at the end of the day when your child turns in the phone.

Therefore a simple android “go phone” will be sufficient initially. The cost ranges from $40 to $100, and because you own the phone outright, there is no ongoing charge to finance a more expensive phone, like the iPhone or a deluxe android phone, ranging in price from $400 to $800.

As far as parental controls go, I believe they are useful as a training tool for you and your child, but I would not recommend relying on them for security. Parental control features are built into the devices which give you the ability to restrict apps, and access to websites, which is important to do; and in order to use these tools effectively and in ways that strengthen the trust bond between you and your child, you must stay engaged. At the same time that you deploy controls, there must be ongoing dialogue about what is happening in your child’s world, and what interests your child. Kids very quickly figure out how to get around parental controls, and the parental controls will not protect them from many other ways in which cyber-connectivity can influence decisions and experiences that are not good, including bullying, sexual exploitation and addictions in their peer communities.

Below are some links that offer guidance on how to set up parental controls on the smartphones:

And do not hesitate to ask the folks at the mobile phone store to help you.

Family-approved app list. Whatever phone you select, make sure that you and your child are in agreement on the parameters of use. For example, establish a “family-approved app listing” wherein you and your child have listed the apps that he has permission to download and use. Establish a house rule that you will randomly check the device to review the apps that are installed on your child’s phone. If your child protests that you are checking her phone, explain that you are building trust. That every time you catch your child doing something right, it builds trust. Eventually you will not be checking their phone as your child matures into young adulthood, because you expect him to grow up and become fully responsible for his own actions. Right now, you are training him how not to give up power by getting caught in risky traps and downloading maleware that comes with free, strange apps.

Fundamentals for House Rules

shutterstock_237933418Each family has a unique culture, as every individual is unique. The fundamentals of House Rules below offers some criteria for you to establish your own house rules based upon your values and culture.

These fundamentals take into consideration the characteristics needed to cultivate more confident and secure perspectives of individuals relating and interacting in the ‘Net’ and the culture influenced by the ‘Net’.

  • Consider Internet access and smart phones as a rite of passage – not a right.
  • No secrets, no surprises. Transparency mandatory.
  • Explain why the rule exits and how they benefit individuals and the family.
  • Regulate schedule and access to cyber tools (mobile phones and Internet).
  • Unplug phones at a designated time in the evening.
  • Only hit “send” if your mother could read it and be proud.
  • Establish and enforce consequences for rules violations.
  • Offer a clean slate after a consequence has been administered or experienced.

To learn more about Fresh Start Family Culture consulting and training, go to Fresh Start.

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.