The answer may be surprising because a child’s readiness for a smartphone is usually based on behavior only peripherally connected to the internet. Does he do his assigned chores? Does she get up for school on time? Do they only use the iPad for homework and educational games? A student’s maturity level does count for some of the smartphone readiness factor, but this is what counts MORE:
Giving middle school students a smartphone because they walk home, or have extracurricular activities, or need a portable internet connection for schoolwork may be a reasonable decision for some families.
However, there are smartphone life skills that should be introduced to kids by their parents BEFORE a phone is purchased, and also as part of an ONGOING reinforcement process.
A smartphone is a wondrous tool, but it doesn’t come with directions. It is up to mom or dad to ensure that a child is really ready for this big step by integrating ‘Responsible Culture’ teaching tools into family life.
What you can do:
- Use regular Family Meetings and Online Safety Contracts to co-develop a flexible cyber-use plan with your middle-schoolers. DISCUSSION is the key to working with tweens, teens and social media. They like to be treated as adults…and having a voice is a different feeling than being told what to do.
- Educate your family with the free, online resources provided by Common Sense Media. Your children need to understand how texting can lead to sexting; how to deal with cyber-bullies; and, where they can go for help with an embarrassing or endangering social media situation.
TEACH RESPONSIBLE CHOICES & ONLINE SAFETY
Center your ‘Responsible Culture’ teaching tools on responsible choices and online safety: talk with your children about social media behavior and reasonable guidelines – even practice online scenarios.
Your expectations, and the consequences for a tween or teen’s social media misstep or phone privilege abuse should be discussed BEFORE incidents occur. Middle-schoolers WILL make online mistakes, but educating is ‘greater than reacting’, and you are teaching your children a vital social skill-set for the 21st century.
- Part of your Online Safety Contract should state that you must have current passwords to phones and apps at all times. This is a safety item, and is non-negotiable.
- You may wish to start your children on a cell-phone with texting, but without internet access. Ensure that they can make responsible choices prior to placing the power of the internet at their fingertips.
SOCIAL MEDIA PARENTING
Perhaps the most imperative piece of educating your son or daughter about smartphone best practices is educating YOURSELF.
- I say this a lot: You can’t monitor social media if you are not ON social media. Sign up for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and follow your kids.
- Do you demonstrate internet leadership; are you walking your own i-Talk? Make dinner a device-free meal. Put conversation with family-members ahead of checking messages. Your children are watching your habits, and they need to know what healthy smartphone behavior looks like. Show BALANCE!
Your middle-schooler’s job is to practice making good online choices.
Your job is to monitor your middle-schooler’s online choices, and to teach appropriate social boundaries for the internet.
And, if YOU are ready to prepare, discuss and monitor; if you are open to learning, leading and participating; if you are willing to model healthy online habits…then your middle-schooler is very likely ready for a smartphone.
List of Online Safety Contracts (free templates for K-12)
K-12 Family Activity Worksheets (great for Family Meeting discussion)
By Blog Editor Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools
Oakland Schools • 2111 Pontiac Lake Road • Waterford, MI 48328-2736 • 248.209.2000