A smartphone is a powerful device, a key to all the knowledge on the web, and a powerful tool for connecting with others, including strangers. This means that handing over this amount of power to a kid could bring forth unexpected and potentially dangerous results. It is undeniable that the pressure from friends and classmates can become a distraction for families wanting to establish some rules around smartphones. Just as we would not give a 13-year-old the keys to our new car, we should not be comfortable with giving a young person a device without first having a conversation about what the device can do, what you expect them to do with the device, and what the consequences are for breaking your trust.
How can parents manage this coming-of-age moment with minimal headache? Through family agreements!
On their tenth birthday, we provided each of our kids with their first smartphone. We treated each 10th birthday as a big celebratory event and we took great care to establish trust and rapport around technology use in the years leading up to this big milestone. But a smartphone seemed to be a leveled-up experience from tablets and gaming platforms so our family created the Smartphone 10 Commandments as an agreement between the adults and the kids. This agreement serves as a reminder of what is acceptable and what’s not when our kids are using their new phones. The great thing is that these “commandments” aren’t set in stone. They’re open to amending and evolving based on maturity levels and trust built between family members.
We encourage families to adopt, amend, or create their own version of the Smartphone 10 Commandments based on their family values and the maturity level of their kids. When we guide our kids through adult-like experiences, we can model how to be great citizens online by being great citizens and team members in our home community first. Your agreements should reflect your family's needs and should be supported by ongoing conversations about the powerful device in your child’s hand.
In many ways, my kids experience a lot of freedom and trust while online. They understand that the boundaries that exist can expand as they earn more trust and learn more life lessons. This means more social media platforms, more gaming, and extended hours online with friends. They also respect their devices and know that real consequences exist when individuals fail to uphold community agreements. Our family views technology as a privilege and we view our kids as minors whom we are responsible for supporting and protecting. This means we have regular family discussions about appropriate conduct online, our data that’s collected by services and platforms, and how all of that impacts our shared and individual futures.
Giving your child a smartphone can be a big decision and whether your child already has their smartphone or you're contemplating giving them their first phone, establishing shared rules of engagement and expectations provides your child with a great life lesson and provides parents with some assurances and guardrails to make the situation safe and beneficial for everyone involved.