By Guest Blogger Hilary Smith

Parents everywhere are sighing in relief that they survived another holiday season. The ornaments and stockings are safely packed away for next year and the concerts, parties, and cookie walks are cleared off the calendar. As life gets back to normal, it’s the perfect time to examine how to handle that beloved Smartphone your child unwrapped Christmas morning.

Today’s technology is a great way to connect with friends, new ideas, and to relax. However, digital citizenship also exposes our children to threats lurking behind the glow of their screens. These dangers often include cyberbullying, sexting, online predators, and oversharing.

Is My Child Ready To Go Online?

Now that our sons and daughters have unwrapped their gift, it is important to make sure they are responsible enough to handle the device. With over 78 percent of teens owning cell phones and 75 percent of children under the ages of 8 accessing “smart” devices, it is no surprise that our children are connected online a good portion of the time.

Even though they might love snapping selfies or sharing messages, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are mature enough to handle unlimited access to social media or the Internet.

If you are questioning if a child is ready to handle the online world, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my son or daughter take care of his or her belongings?
  • Can my child make appropriate judgments when dealing with peers or problems?
  • Is he or she able to understand social permanence and how it can affect their future?
  • Have you had a discussion about social media etiquette?

If you answered “yes” to the majority of the questions, then it might be fair to conclude that your child might be able to handle the responsibility of using their Smartphone.

Preparing A Child For Smartphone Dangers

2Thankfully, there are a few ways a parent can help prepare a child for the world of wi-fi and connectivity Smartphones provide. To help you on this journey, we have compiled seven suggestions to implement so your child can enjoy their gift beyond the new year.

  • Educate yourself. Take a few minutes to learn about common pitfalls children often face while using Smartphones. Know what signs to be on the lookout for if a child is being victimized or doing something they shouldn’t.
  • Develop a technology contract. As a family, sit down and write out a formal agreement that clearly states the expectations and consequences for using devices or Smartphones. A few minutes spent on this will help prevent future arguments and problems from developing.
  • Help a child set their privacy settings and passwords for their accounts. It sounds simple, but many children are unaware of the proper way to set their privacy settings. Often social media sites change their settings when they update or include new measures to limit who can see account information. Also, stress the importance of keeping their passwords a secret- even from their friends.
  • Begin an ongoing discussion about social media etiquette. A good rule of thumb is to only share something they would feel comfortable with grandma or grandpa seeing. It is our job to make sure they understand the ramifications of the choices they make online.
  • Limit the amount of data a child is allowed to use. Besides being nicer on your wallet there is an added bonus! Children will be more intentional with their messaging and sharing.
  • Keep technology in common living areas and out of bedrooms. This allows children to use their devices, but protects them from inappropriate uses and interrupted sleep patterns.
  • Monitor a child’s Smartphone and Internet activity. It is estimated that 70 percent of kids will hide their activity from the adults in their lives. With all this secrecy, it can be easy for children to cover up cyberbullying, sexting, and other negativity associated with Smartphones. In the beginning, it is important to know exactly how a child is interacting with others online. With time and after demonstrating good choices, you can scale back your efforts and offer them more independence.

In our desire to provide the best holiday, we might have handed our children a Smartphone or device without considering all the repercussions. We need to challenge ourselves to empower our children to use their technology wisely. What is one thing you will do today to keep your child merrily using their cell phone?