If you're reading this, you'd probably rather I tell you about the best way to stop your child from wanting a smartphone so you wouldn't have to figure out which one to buy, and you'd no longer have the worry about that impending day when they get that phone, dive into social media, and everything changes. But unfortunately, that's impossible. Children want phones at younger ages every year, so it's better that you buckle up and prepare yourself for the joy of this next phase.
Instead, here are some simple tips on what NOT to do when thinking through this decision:
I don't agree that smartphones and the internet are inherently bad for children. Your child will eventually get access to a smartphone and social media, so it's better that you start teaching them how to be responsible early.
Ideas are like seeds -- they need to be nurtured in order to grow. One of the best ways that you can nurture your child's ideas at an early age is by giving them lots of opportunities for creative play and exploration. Early childhood experts recommend at least three hours a week of unstructured time in which kids get their hands on materials like paper, cardboard boxes, crayons, markers, and scissors; use these materials to make pictures or sculptures; invent stories about what they create, or just let their imagination run free. The more your child plays creatively now, the more likely it is that he or she will become an innovative adult later.
Yet, when it comes to giving kids access to a smartphone or social media, the most popular advice suggests screen time limitation, extreme structure, and prevention by blocking certain apps and sites. In my mind, that means that the less your child has the freedom to try and fail on social media, the less likely it is that he or she will be able to handle the pressures and freedom that the internet can offer.
Bring up the conversation about social media ASAP. If they are next to you, do it right now. If they aren't, then when you pick them up from school today or when you're eating dinner, ask about it. Show genuine curiosity into the apps that their friends use. Ask them about what they would do if one of their friends asked them for a nude picture. You need to be the one that introduces them to the kinds of things that can happen and talk about a response that involves you.
Choose a phone that gives you access, not control. You need to understand what is going on so that you can show that you are interested and care. It's not about turning the phone off for certain hours of the day. It's about seeing the content they interact with, the context of where they see it and why they like it, and understanding the connections they make with people you know or potentially complete strangers.
Ultimately, give them the freedom to fall down but be there to pick them up without them having to ask you for it. It will cement your bond, increase their trust for you, and keep the connection you crave. But the only way that is possible is to be involved in a non-judgmental and non-controlling way.
Regardless of what you choose to do, it's imperative that you are involved. This is the only way your child will learn how to be responsible for themselves online now with you, or else they will have to learn on their own later when they become an adult. The best thing you can do is teach them about the risks associated with social media so that they know what to expect. You must show genuine curiosity, ask them about uncomfortable topics, and give them access with your involvement.