Teaching teens how to responsibly use their smartphone technology has become a necessary part of parenting. According to the Pew Research Internet Project Teens and Technology 2013 survey, most teens in the United States own cell phones–and that almost half of these are smartphones. Furthermore, 95 percent of teens are active online, while 25 percent of teens use their smartphones to regularly access the internet.
Teaching teens about responsible smartphone use is equally applicable to other kinds of technology. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, as the skills used for responsible smartphone use apply to any ways that a teen may behave online.
While there are several kinds of behavior to address when talking with teens about responsible smartphone use, below are a few specific tips to help keep adolescents safe when accessing the internet.
Talk At Length About Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a teen issue with far-reaching and often serious consequences. Teens participate in cyberbullying when they send harassing messages via text, email, social media, or anywhere online. These messages can include rumors about the individual being bullied as well as images or video with the intent to humiliate.
It is essential to talk with teens about the signs of cyberbullying as well as the behavior they can engage in that would harass their peers. Adolescents need to know that parents will not allow them to use their smartphones to harass others via text, email, or social media and need to know when their kids receive threatening or uncomfortable messages from others. Parents can also encourage teens to help others who experience cyberbullying.
Address the Porn Issue
A smartphone provides open and unmitigated access to everything online. Many sources of information are helpful, but many more are harmful. Parents can tackle this issue head-on by being upfront with their teens about cell phone monitoring, if this is determined to be necesarry, as well as being aware of the dangers that accompany viewing pornographic material.
No Texting and Driving
The statistics regarding teen texting and driving are sobering. Texting while driving increases the risk of a car crash by almost 25 percent and account for as many as eleven teen deaths every day. Even though the risks are great, almost half the teens surveyed admitted to participating in texting and driving.
Adolescents need to know from parents – through open communication and modeling – that texting while driving is off-limits. There is no situation that cannot wait until teens are out of the car before they text.
Set Up Monitoring
Smartphone monitoring programs are a smart and convenient way for parents to keep track of what their kids are accessing online, whether the activity is with a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. With this valuable information, parents can open discussions about their teens’ online behavior, correcting and redirecting when appropriate, and – most importantly – help keep their kids safe.
Creating a Contract for Smartphone Use
A smartphone contract is an excellent idea for parents to open communication with their teens, as well as setting boundaries and expectations for responsible smartphone use. A smartphone contract between parents and teens are simple to customize, and can incorporate a wide range of expectations.
- Basic Manners – Spell out when teens are allowed to text or access the internet and when the phone needs to be turned off. For example, the contract should state that the teen is to turn the smartphone off during dinner with the family.
- Safety and Privacy – Teens need to alert parents when receiving suspicious or alarming messages and agree to not give out any personal information. It is also a good idea for teens to avoid meeting anyone they have encountered online.
- Calling and Texting – These limits can spell out how many texts, minutes, or data is included in the teen’s phone plan each month, as well as directions for not sending any harassing or hurtful texts to others.
- Monitoring – Incorporating monitoring software can be treated as a fact, as it helps parents keep their children safe. If a teen strongly objects, parents can thoughtfully listen and then invite the teen to not have a smartphone at all.
Parents also need to include any consequences from breaking the rules of responsible smartphone use, including the need for teens to do well in school and participate in chores around the house. These possible consequences can help teens stay focused on using their smartphones responsibly.
Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. She believes that, in our digital age, it’s time for parents and educators to make sure parents and students alike are educated about technology and social media use, hoping to inform others through her writing. You can follow her on Twitter.