So you want to get your kid a new Phone for Christmas? Read this First!

Every year at about this time, I dust off this article, update it, and hope parents will read and share it with their friends. 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.  An iPhone or iPad is a fantastic gift. The entertainment and educational opportunities are nearly endless, but it also opens up a world your child may not be prepared for.

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 “flip” 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 child. Talking to thousands of parents every year, I have learned parents are not having this important talk with their child 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 opening 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 OpenDNS. It is free for families to use. 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. I also published a walkthrough of the iPhone’s new Screen Time Controls.

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 Websafety. 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.

Do you struggle with setting screen time limits? WebSafety includes a Curfew feature to manage time each day in which the mobile device is locked from use. This feature is great for bedtime, study time or any time.

One of my favorite Websafety features is location tracking and notifications. I have it set so that when my boys arrive or leave home or school, I get a notification on my phone. I can also see their current location anytime I desire.

Use CYBERSAFETYCOP (case-sensitive) in Websafety’s coupon code to get half-off your first month’s subscription.

Get educated and stay on top of the latest online trends

  1. Subscribe to our free e-newsletter.
  2. Purchase Parenting in the Digital World. It also makes a great gift for someone you love!
  3. 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. If you would like to host a parent seminar at your school, fill out the contact form here to learn more.

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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.