Parent’s Safety Guide to Their Child’s First Phone or Tablet

Before you buy a new phone or device for your child this holiday season, read this first!

Every year at about this time, I get parents asking for advice about buying their child their first smartphone or tablet. Unfortunately, not all parents are looking for resources and guidance before handing their child a new device. Inevitably, there will be millions of children returning to school after the holidays with brand new shiny phones with no guidelines or parental controls. The result is a new crop of incidents of bullying, threats, anxiety, depression, and sexual exploitation.  I have investigated thousands of incidents of online abuse. They all have one thing in common: their parents had NO IDEA what was going on in their child’s digital world. If they did, they could have done something to avoid the resulting trauma in their child’s life.

Should I buy my child a phone?

“Should I buy my child a phone ?” is a question every parent should ask themselves before they run out and buy their child’s first phone. Unfortunately, most parents don’t.

After a recent parent talk I performed at a large elementary school, a grief-stricken parent walked up to me and said, “I think I made a horrible mistake, I promised to buy my 9-year-old an iPhone for Christmas.” This parent just sat through my two-hour seminar and now realizes what is potentially in store for her daughter and what she, as her mother, will have to do to keep her safe. When a parent asks me when they should buy a phone for their kid, I ask, “Why does your child need a phone?” Are they a pre-teen? Do you drop them off at school/sports events and pick them up? If that is the case, why do they need a phone? Or, how about this: Do they need a smartphone? What about giving them a (not-so-smart) phone with no Internet access? Just some ideas to consider.

You have decided to buy your child their first smartphone, now what?

1. Review the Mobile Device and Internet Contract with your child.

80% of parents have never discussed Internet safety with their children. Talking to thousands of parents every year, I have learned parents are not having this important talk with their children because they do not know what to say. The number one safety factor in any child’s life is a parent that will speak to them about important, and sometimes tricky topics like Internet safety, bullying, drug use, vaping, etc. The Mobile Device and Internet Contract is a parent’s script to open a meaningful conversation about cyber safety with their child. Read each point to them, and then ask them to share their thoughts about it. Ask open-ended questions like, “Why do you think this is a good idea,” or “what could happen if you let a stranger into your Instagram account?”

2. Filter the Internet content that is coming into your home.

Use a reliable content filter on the Internet coming and going from your home. I recommend using Your router may already have content filtering built into it. Make sure you are using something. Not only will you block inappropriate adult material from reaching your child’s device, but it will also block malicious websites that can infect your devices with viruses or malware.

3. Turn on parental controls on all the Internet-connected devices your child is using.

For most parents, even parents who are IT professionals, this is a tall order. You can slog through Youtube videos, and Google searches on how to do this on your child’s devices. Unfortunately, parents who do this give up after an hour or two. I don’t want parents to give up. This step is too important. That is why I wrote my book, Parenting in the Digital World. It will walk you step-by-step through the process of turning on all the necessary parental controls on all of your kid’s devices, including their mobile devices, computers, and gaming consoles.

4. Install a parental control and notification app on your child’s mobile device.

I have been using a great app on my children’s mobile phones called Bark. It is available on iPhone or Android devices. It is incredibly easy to use and helps me stay on top of my boys’ digital world wherever they are.

Bark proactively monitors text messages, YouTube, emails, and 24 different social networks for potential safety concerns, so busy parents can save time and gain peace of mind.

Use cybersafetycop in Bark’s coupon code to get a free one-week trial and 15% off your subscription forever.

5. Get the Definitive Guide on Cyber Safety for Families, Parenting in the Digital World

Parenting in the Digital World is written by Clayton Cranford, the nation’s leading law enforcement educator on social media and online safety for children and recipient of the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award.

This easy step-by-step guide will show parents how to create a safe environment on the Internet, social networking apps, and on their children’s favorite game consoles. Now available in Spanish.

6. Go to a Free Parent Seminar Hosted at a Nearby School.

This seminar will change the way you look at your child’s digital world and give you a step-by-step game plan to make your child safe. We still have a few events scheduled this year. Check our Events Page to find a seminar near you.

7. Bring the Cyber Safety Cop to your school to speak to your students (K-12) and your parents.

All of our presentations are webinar-ready.

If you would like to host a parent seminar or student assembly at your school, fill out the contact form here to learn more.

8. Stay Informed by Subscribing to Our Free Newsletter

Cyber safety is a moving target. We do the research for you. When a new app or online threat pops up, we will let you know about it. We also share parenting tips that will make a difference in your home. Subscribe here.

9. Share This Article With Others

When your child goes over to their friend’s house, wouldn’t it be nice if those parents were practicing everything in this article? The more parents who are doing the things covered in this article, the safer all of our children are. Share this article on your Facebook page, your PTA newsletter, and in your parent groups.

*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Thank you! 

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About the Author

Clayton Cranford
Clayton Cranford is a retired Sergeant from Orange County Sheriff's Department in California and owner of Total Safety Solutions LLC. Clayton is one of the nation’s leading law enforcement educators on social media, child safety, and behavioral threat assessments. Clayton is the author of the definitive book on cyber safety for families, “Parenting in the Digital World.” Clayton has more than 20 years of teaching experience and was awarded the 2015 National Bullying Prevention Award from the School Safety Advocacy Council, and the 2015 American Legion Medal of Merit. Clayton was a member of the County's Behavioral Threat Assessment Team, Crisis Negotiation Team, School Resource Officer program, and Juvenile Bureau.