What to do when your 8 year old gets a cell phone
“Mom, everyone at school has their own iPhone. Why can’t I have one?,” he said exasperated. My son was eight years old and not exaggerating. It seemed all of his friends at his school DID have their own cell phone. Some used it for communication while others used it for entertainment. I didn’t have my first phone until I was in graduate school. Clearly, I was out of my element. I agreed and let him have his first phone, but I made sure it was highly restricted and only to be used for communication. At least that's what I intended...
Once my son got his cell phone, his requests kept getting more elaborate. Every day, he wanted a new app. I wondered what app he needed for "communication." That was a no to Minecraft and Roblox on the phone. Undeterred by my refusal to get entertainment apps, my son would start randomly Facetiming or watching YouTube or asking Siri questions that would give questionable sites as results. I knew there were parental controls but somehow, he seemed to be getting around them, without even trying. The old trick of keeping the family computer available for everyone to see was not working. Devices and screens were ubiquitous. I knew that I needed to start my research.
Based on my research (another book in the works) and first-hand mom knowledge, here are some basic digital tips I have uncovered for keeping screen time under control.
1. Find out what your children are watching. What types of devices do they gravitate towards and what are they seeing? Be an observer. Get involved.
2. It’s time to talk. Have discussions with your children about the apps they are using. How are they interacting with the apps? Are they educational or entertaining or both? Do they have friend functions? If yes, make sure they know NOT to friend anyone they don’t know in real life. Turn off messaging and search functions if you can.
3. Model good electronic behavior. Use electronics sparingly. Just. Put. The. Phone/Tablet. Down. Or install an app to find out how often you are on your device.
4. Explain rules of social media. Never reveal your address, full name, school, when you are on vacation, etc. Don’t agree to meet anyone you don’t know. Friend people you know in real life. Use the grandma test- if you would not send it to your grandma, don’t post it.
5. If you ever feel uncomfortable about an interaction, post, message, tell a trusted adult.