Have this talk before your kid gets a phone: digital parenting tips #1

5 min readOct 9, 2019

(This is the first in a series of practical tips about parenting in the digital age.)

Parents of adolescents worry about when a kid should get her* first smartphone. It’s a legit worry. On the plus side, smartphones connect kids to a vast world of information, resources, entertainment, and community… and that’s the down side, too. The magic mirror is a source of infinite distraction that fits in a palm, even a young one.

At some point, your kid will start a mosquito campaign: she needs a phone because all her friends have them. The worst part of this is that she’s right: phones are the main way that adolescents communicate with each other, and starting around 12 or 13, their peer group looms largest in their minds. Being disconnected from that peer group is like being dead for a teenager.

But, parents, before you hand over a handheld device — whether it’s a phone or a tablet, with a data plan or without — here are some conversations to have. They’ll make life easier later.

First: grownups? Talk amongst yourselves…

If the kid is living in an intact family (all parents and siblings living under the same roof), then this is at least theoretically an easy conversation to have

However, as Yogi Berra famously observed, “in theory there’s no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is.” Don’t expect to get through this conversation in 15 minutes. Book an hour to explore your partner’s expectations about phone use. Are they the same as yours?

Here are some sample questions parents can ask each other:

  • Who will pay for the phone? What about voice, text, and data?
  • Should the kid have unlimited text, voice, and data, or should it be limited?
  • Are there limitations on phone use? If so, what are they?
  • For example, where is the phone during meal time?
  • Does the phone go to school?
  • Where does the phone live at night?
  • When the kid is doing homework, where is the phone?**
  • Will the parents put tracking software on the phone?

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