Cute boy with mobile phoneThis article has been contributed by Dr. Eli Shapiro, digital parenting expert and co-creator of The Digital Citizenship Project.

An Expert Shares His Personal Tips to Prepare Your Child for Smartphone Ownership

So, your child has proven that they are mature enough to enter the (big and scary) world of smartphone ownership.

They may be ready, but as a parent… Are you?

While this momentous event should be approached with great care and consideration, following a few Tech-Smart guidelines should make the process relatively painless, and can even create the opportunity to strengthen and develop your relationship.

My line of work allows me to travel with the core goal of empowering parents, teachers and students to balance the benefits and risks of tech. Over my years of providing support and training, I am asked infinite questions about digital parenting. Perhaps the most common question I am asked is ‘What is the right age to hand over a smartphone?’

prepare your child for smartphone

The first is that your child should never be the first in their social peer group to get a device, nor the last.

The second is that their age is not nearly as important as the preparation that comes before handing over the device, and the degree of engagement that you exhibit throughout their ownership. Giving a 15-year-old an iPhone with no rules or boundaries is far more problematic than giving a 10 year old the same device alongside ongoing conversations and clear expectations.

So, to set a familiar scene…

Your child comes home from school stating, “Everyone has an [Insert Must-Have Item Here].”

What’s next for you? How do you handle this situation?

As a Father and expert in digital parenting, these are my five tips to prepare your child for smartphone ownership…


Check the Landscape

In most cases, everyone does not have the latest gadget, only a small handful of peers do. A few easy phone calls or texts to fellow parents will help to clarify the prevalence of device ownership and allow you to make an informed decision.

When you chat with these parents, ask if they have any expectations or rules in place with their child, and (if you feel comfortable asking) how they enforce them. You aren’t alone in the concern that you feel, and it will be good to know where your child’s friends stand in their privileges. ;)

Communicate Expectations

The value of effective communication cannot be stressed enough.

You need to view your child’s engagement with technology as a partnership. After handing that phone over, you and your child will form a new relationship surrounding the use of that device, for better or worse. The success or failure of all partnerships is greatly dependent on clear expectations; knowing what is and is not appropriate and required from both parties is key.

Once it is clear that the device in question is, in fact, trending amongst your child’s peer group, discuss why they want the device and what they hope to get out of it. A good answer might sound like, “We have a chat in our whole class, and it’s an opportunity to discuss homework” or, “My friends from camp are posting pictures and I want to be part of it”.

This is also an opportune time to express some of your concerns about this new responsibility. Don’t let your child get away with surface-oriented answers or minimizing your concerns. Understanding each other’s expectations, worries, and intentions will play an important role in your next step…

Write a Contract, Togetherprepare your child for smartphone

Although a contract might sound a bit formal, putting an agreement down in writing will promote a healthy conversation about expectations and clarify rules for the privilege of technology ownership.

The OurPact family contract is a great place to start. I suggest asking your child to look this contract over, and then edit it to come up with a first draft. This process will empower your child with a sense of responsibility and open an important dialogue allowing you both to explain your opinions. As with any contract, it’s likely the initial offer your child hands over will be rejected.

Writing up this contract is an essential element to prepare your child for smartphone ownership. Putting together this contract should be a collaborative process that fosters communication and culminates with a mutually acceptable agreement. As with any contract, if either party is unsatisfied, ink should not meet paper.

Set Clear Restrictions

Any adjustment of independence for children should be met with an equal adjustment in parental oversight. Trust is key, but it is your responsibility and right to be involved in your child’s online habits and activities.

Here, I divide restriction into two categories: content and schedule.

Most devices have built-in content filters. On the iPhone, for example, you can go to Setting – General – Restrictions, where a host of content and app restrictions are available to meet your individual family values and norms.

A little more challenging is setting a schedule that you can expect your child to adhere to. Most device-owning kids report staying up late as a result of their device use, or being distracted during the school day.

The OurPact app allows you to schedule when apps and Internet are available on your child’s device. For example, their device can be scheduled to be off during the school day as well as from bedtime to the morning. Scheduled down times can only be overridden within the parent app, and should your child need some extra leg room, the opportunity for a relationship building conversation about needs and expectation is always there.

Keep it Consistent

Assessment, reinforcement and communication are all ongoing processes. Technology is a constantly changing landscape, and so ongoing communication and involvement is critical to ensuring your first four steps are lasting and meaningful.prepare your child for smartphone

Recent studies suggest that while nearly 65% of children grades 6-8 reported seeing images or videos that disturbed them, only 15% of parents reporting such incidents for their children. It’s important that you both stay on the same page, and the best way to do so is by engaging in ongoing dialogue. This will help ensure your child feels comfortable communicating both their positive and negative experiences with technology, and will allow you to address challenges head-on.

Handing over a device, and the responsibility that follows (for both parents and children) can be rough waters to navigate. While as parents we always need to be aware of the potential harms of technology, it’s also important to keep perspective. These new devices and innovations allow our children unlimited opportunities to learn and connect, and offer perfect circumstances to develop trust and communication skills.

By following these Tech Smart guidelines you are helping your child maximize the benefits of technology use while building a positive relationship with them.

If you liked this article and are interested in learning more about this new digital world (and your place in it), come visit our website The Digital Citizenship Project. We have great programs, thought-provoking data, and actionable tips for parents just like you!


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