Milestones vs. Maturity: When Kids Get Their First Smartphones
If kids who don’t have smartphones are to be believed, they are literally the only ones in their class without them. And while most of them will get one eventually, that doesn’t make it any easier for parents to decide exactly when is the right time for their kid to get their first smartphone.
Some parents choose to tie that moment to milestones like graduation, bar or bat mitzvahs, and specific grade levels or birthdays. Others prefer to wait until their kid has reached a certain level of maturity before granting them such a privilege. At Bark, we recognize that every family is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to parenting in the digital age. Whether it’s set to milestones or maturity, here are some thoughts for parents to consider when getting their kid their first smartphone.
Smartphones at Milestones
Digital devices make for great gifts. They allow kids to have access to a whole new world of games, tools, and social media platforms. But it’s hard enough as it is to decide whether to get them an Apple or Android. So for parents, choosing a designated time or event to serve as a rite of passage can seem like a no-brainer. It also helps their kid understand that no amount of begging or bribery will speed up the process — they’ll get it when it’s time, and that’s that.
In the meantime, it’s important for families to talk about the responsibilities that come along with their first smartphone. As excited as they are to be able to get on Snapchat (which, by the way, is not something every family will allow — here’s why), they’ll need to be coached on how to be responsible with their new online freedoms. It’s human nature to make mistakes — especially when it comes to young people and their first devices. It’s not a matter of if, but when. And when the time comes, they’ll need to know what to do when they find themselves in over their heads.
Parents play an essential role in preparing their kids for life in the online world. By taking the time to talk to them the realities of life online — cyberbullying, social media, sexting, and other digital dangers — their kids can grow into responsible digital citizens.
Security With Maturity
While gifting your kid a smartphone at a predetermined time might work for many families, kids grow up at different rates. In a single class of eighth graders, some might have the emotional maturity of juniors in high school, while others may not act quite as we’d expect for their age. For parents who would have more peace of mind waiting until their kids are ready before expanding their privileges, it makes more sense to give them their first smartphone once they’ve shown that they can handle the new responsibility.
There are lots of ways that kids can show their maturity, whether it’s through their consistently good judgment or behavior, a strong academic performance, or even by making it through a difficult time with an impressive level of grace and determination. Parents can keep tabs on their maturity by checking in often. They can also have their child sign a technology contract that holds them accountable for their online behavior.
Finally, when considering their first smartphone, it helps to talk to them about technology issues in particular. Have they experienced or witnessed cyberbullying? Do they know about online grooming? Do they struggle with depression? And as a parent, are you aware that Google Docs can be a hotbed for cyberbullying? Do you know all the ways your child can access the internet and the variety of parental controls (some of which are free!) that are available to you? Each of these questions can open the door to broader discussions about growing up in a digital age, and they can help you determine that your child is ready for a smartphone.
Help Keep Them Safe With Bark
There’s plenty for kids to learn before diving headlong into their new smartphones. When parents themselves are educated about the digital landscape, they can be all the more effective teachers. Knowing the realities of this digital landscape is key to helping your children navigate their own way (bumps and all) with a strong support system at home.
As a parent, you should not feel pressured to give their child a smartphone just because “all of their friends are getting one.” Instead, trust your own understanding of what’s appropriate for your child. And when your family is ready, consider using a monitoring solution like Bark that will alert you to signs of potential online issues.
From cyberbullying, sexting, and sexual predators to depression, suicidal ideation, and threats of violence, it’s Bark’s mission to help protect kids both online and in real life. Sign up today for a free, one-week trial and join our private Facebook group of more than 25,000 supportive parents. You can also click here to read heartfelt testimonials from parents across the country.