Kids + Media | Parenting | Parenting Tools | Family Management | Ages 11–14

6 Weeks to a Smartphone-Friendly Family: Week 2

You've decided your tween is ready for a cell phone — now what? Learn about common apps, social media etiquette and more

young teenage girl with smart phone

Week 2: Ready for a smartphone, set, now what?

After some prep and research (see Week 1), you’ve decided your teen is ready for the responsibility of owning a smartphone. But not so fast. Before you hand over that shiny technology, there are some things you need to know.

Parenting your teen around his or her first smartphone can be challenging. But when you educate yourself and stick to the ground rules and contract you create together with your son or daughter, (we’ll get into that later), the transition can go much smoother.

My daughter, now age 21, still appreciates the fact that we had rules around the phone. (Believe me, she didn’t at the time.) When she comes home from college for dinner, she automatically puts it away at dinnertime. The same rule holds for the entire family.

She once told me “I love how I always know when we have a meal together, we really get to catch up, laugh and enjoy one another’s company. Sometimes when I’m out with friends, all they want to do is look at their screens.”

Set up a password for the phone

Before you hand over the phone, the first thing to do is to set up a password. This will be the first line of defense for your teen’s personal information to be protected. Be sure to track the password and let them know you need to be informed if it changes. (Your teen may argue you’re “intruding” on their privacy. But you absolutely should be monitoring their behavior at this age. And if you let them know up front that you’ll be doing it from time to time, it won’t be seen as underhanded or sneaky.)

Download apps

Talk to a parent of another teen or family member who already has a smartphone. What kind of apps are the most popular right now? (It can change quickly.) What do they do? What kind of things do you need to caution your teen about with each one? Get a good sense of the social networks and popular apps.

Next, download the apps on your phone and theirs before you give it to them. Get familiar with how they work and set up privacy settings. Begin to come up with a list of clear expectations for responsible use of social media. When you’re ready to make a smartphone “contract” with your teen, you will want to refer to these expectations. (Remember, your teen cannot have a Facebook account until they’re 13.)

The top apps to get to know and download right now include:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • Snapchat
  • Twitter
  • Vine

Talk about what some of these apps and social networks can do in both positive and negative ways.

Also, it’s very important to make sure you’re aware of the applications your teen is downloading. Most major cell phone companies have the ability to send an email the instant a new app has been downloaded on their phone. Ask about it and sign up for it. 

If you receive an email, check it out and make sure you know what the app does. There is a case in Colorado of an application disguised as a calculator that actually hid nude photos kids were sexting to one another. Be an involved parent and know what’s on their phone.

With our daughters, a prerequisite for the phone was “friending” us on all social applications. (It’s important not to abuse this. We promised them we would not comment on their posts unless they tagged us in them. Again, you want to build trust.)

It’s also great to download apps you can both enjoy. Ask other parents and teens what their favorites are. Some popular apps to consider include games such as Words with Friends, QuizUP, Trivia Crack and Angry Birds. A simple Internet search will give you hundreds of fun games you can play together.

Remember, the more you’re able to interact with your teen around the smartphone, the more opportunity you’ll have to keep the lines of communication open.

Social media can be wonderful. Reconnecting with friends and finding out what’s going on in your community are just a couple. But have you ever gone on Facebook and felt like you just aren’t measuring up? Have you seen photos posted on Instagram from a party you weren’t invited to? How did that make you feel?Talk about your own social media experiences

Bringing up some personal social media stories with your teen is a good way to start this conversation. Choose the setting that works best for a conversation — whether it's around the dinner table or in the car or while playing ping-pong. Speaking from your own experience and sharing a story will make them more apt to listen. It will also begin a great conversation between the two of you, and whether they admit it or not, they will learn from your experience.

I remember my youngest daughter sharing pictures from high school parties she was invited to. We would constantly remind her to be sensitive, that not every friend of hers was invited to every party. It finally hit home one day when a picture was posted of a party she wasn’t invited to.

Sometimes there are lessons your teen will have to learn the hard way, but it’s part of the growing process.

Are you a smartphone “offender”?

Be aware of your own behavior around your smartphone. Are you leaving it off during family time? How often are you checking your email when you get home from work? And if you’re texting in your car, don’t expect your teen to listen when you tell them not to. According to AAA, 46 percent of teens admitted to texting while driving. And those were the ones who admitted it so you know the number is much higher.

Teens learn more from watching us than listening to us. And believe me, they are watching.

Next time, we’ll talk about coming up with a smartphone contract together that you can both live with. (Yes, it is possible!)

For more information and detail on becoming smartphone savvy, along with great conversation starters for you and your teen, download our free guide

Read the rest of the series: Week 1, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5 and Week 6.

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