Cell Phone Parenting

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What’s the right age for parents to get their kids a cell phone?

The right age to give kids their first cell phone is really up to parents. Age isn’t as important a kid’s maturity level, ability to follow home (and their schools’) rules, and their sense of responsibility. But when you hand your children cell phones, you’re giving them powerful communication and media-production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to websites instantly. Parents really need to consider whether their kids are ready to use their phones responsibly and respectfully.

If you think your kids’ technological savvy is greater than their ability to use it wisely, pay attention to the gap. You may need to say, “No, not yet.”

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Do your kids show a sense of responsibility, such as letting you know when they leave the house? Do they show up when they say they will?
  • Do your kids tend to lose things, such as backpacks or homework folders? If so, expect they might lose an (expensive!) phone, too.
  • Do your kids need to be in touch for safety reasons?
  • Would having easy access to friends benefit them for social reasons?
  • Do you think they’ll use cell phones responsibly — for example, not texting during class or disturbing others with their phone conversations?
  • Can they adhere to limits you set for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Will they use text, photo, and video functions responsibly and not to embarrass or harass others?

What are the best privacy settings for my computer and smartphone?

On your computer, you can protect against privacy invasion in your web browser. On your smartphone, you use the phone’s settings.

Computer Privacy

Take a look at the privacy settings offered in your browser (usually found in the Tools menu) to see whether you can fine-tune them to keep the good and block the bad. When you go online, websites install cookies on your computer that track your movements. Some cookies can be beneficial, such as those that remember your login names or items in your online shopping cart. But some cookies are designed to remember everything you do online, build a profile of your personal information and habits, and sell that information to advertisers and other companies.

Smartphone Privacy

Settings on smartphones vary, but you can tighten up privacy with these precautions:

Turn off location services. That prevents apps from tracking your location.

Don’t let apps share data. Some apps want to use information stored on your phone (your contact list, for example). Say no.

Enable privacy settings on apps you download. Make sure your teens are using strict privacy settings on services such as Instagram and Facebook.

Be careful with social logins. When you log onto a site with your Facebook or Google username and password, you may be allowing that app to access certain information from your profile. Read the fine print to know what you’re sharing.

What are some good rules for screen names and passwords?

Make sure kids come up with strong passwords and know never to share them. If kids need to write down passwords to remember them, consider writing down password hints, and store any written-down passwords or hints in a super secret place away from the computer. Consider using a password manager such as LastPass, which keeps all your passwords in one place.

 Password tips to share with kids:

  • Make passwords eight or more characters long (longer passwords are harder to crack than shorter ones).
  • Try not to use dictionary words as your passwords (nonsense words are better).
  • Include letters, numbers, and symbols (these make it harder to guess passwords).
  • Change your password at least every six months (this way, even if someone does guess a password, he or she won’t be able to get into your account for long).
  • Don’t use your nickname, phone number, or address as your password.
  • Give your password to your parent or guardian (they will help you remember it if you forget it).
  • Sharing your password with your friends is not a good idea (even if you trust them, they might unintentionally do something that puts you or your information at risk).
  • Create a password that’s unique but memorable.

Screen name tips to share with kids:

  • Avoid using your real name.
  • Skip personal details (no ages, addresses, or jersey numbers, for example).
  • Consider a screen name’s effect on others (make sure it’s readable and inoffensive).
  • Keep it clean (avoid bad words or anything sexy, which can attract the wrong kind of attention).

What age should my kids be before I let them use Instagram, Facebook, and other social media services?

How old your kid should be before he or she starts using social media with your permission is really up to you. Most social media websites and apps require that kids be 13 to sign up. Despite what many think, this isn’t to limit kids’ exposure to inappropriate content but because of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which prevents companies from collecting certain information from kids under 13. Rather than create an environment that protects kids from data tracking, Facebook and other websites and apps choose to restrict access to those under 13.

Aside from this, 13 is generally the age when kids start developing a broader understanding of the world around them and, along with that, a better sense of what’s appropriate to share online. As young teens, kids also are developing a desire to control more of their activities as well as the maturity to handle that control.

If your kid is expressing interest in joining a social network, discuss the pros and cons and do your own research so you fully understand the implications of joining a particular network. If you want your kid to wait to sign up, consider pointing him or her toward more age-appropriate sites such as Yoursphere or Fanlala. Kuddle is also a quality Instagram substitute. It’s also possible you can rally your kids’ friends’ parents to restrict their kids from Facebook, so you won’t get that “but everyone is on it!” argument.

If your kid does end up joining a social network — whether she’s 10 or 16 — here are some ground rules that work for many parents:

Use privacy settings. Privacy settings aren’t foolproof, but they can be helpful. Take the time to learn how privacy settings work on your kids’ favorite sites and apps, and teach your kids how to control the information they make public or private. Encourage them to check privacy settings regularly, since sites’ policies often change.

Tell your kids to think before they post. Remind them that everything can be seen by a vast, invisible audience (otherwise known as friends-of-friends-of-friends), and, once something’s online, it’s hard to take back.

Be a friend and follower. Each family will have different rules, but, especially for younger kids, it’s a good idea for parents to have access to their kids’ pages, at least at first, to be sure that what’s being posted is appropriate. Parents can help keep their children from doing something they’ll regret later.

Keep private information private. Don’t share your home address or other sensitive information online.

Be respectful of others. Kids may use social media to act out because they feel anonymous and that their actions are consequence-free. Make sure they understand that the Internet is a giant community that works best when everyone respects each other.

Is it OK for my kid to start her own YouTube channel?

It may seem foreign to parents, but for kids, video is a fun way to communicate. All the coolest apps — Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Messenger — let users share video clips. So even though you may have concerns about the risks of broadcasting on the Web — and they are legitimate — your kid may see it as a way of expressing herself, learning digital video skills, sharing with friends, and experimenting creatively. It’s important to balance your concerns with the benefits she can reap.

Your kid’s age will determine how to proceed. YouTube is supposed to be for users over the age of 13, due to the fact that the parent company, Google, collects and markets user data. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) exempts kids from data collection. But, as we all know, plenty of kids have YouTube channels.

It’s not illegal for kids under 13 to create social media profiles on sites that collect user data so long as the parent is aware of the account, knows user data is being collected, and has approved the kid’s account. (Learn five ways to keep kids safe on YouTube.)

Choose one of these options if your kid is under 13:

Use a parent’s account. If you have Gmail, you have a YouTube log-in. Simply go to YouTube, log in with your Gmail address, and go to the account settings. Pay special attention to the upload defaults (where you can make your videos private) and the comments, which you can approve before they go live or turn off altogether. If you use your account, you’ll do all the uploading, but your kid can still have lots of creative control in the design of the channel, the descriptions, and, of course, the videos.

Create a Family Link account. If you have an Android device, you can use Google’s Family Link app that lets you create supervised account for kids under 13. Learn more about Family Link.

Use a different website. YouTube is the most popular video site, but other good options offer built-in safety measures for kids. Consider one of these safe social sites.

Here are some tips to set up teens for YouTube success:

Have a plan. Ask her to create a proposal for her channel that describes what she wants to offer, who the audience is, how often she’ll post, whether she’ll take advertising, and other considerations.

Talk about content. Now’s a good time to discuss what’s OK to post, what should remain private, and other basics of digital citizenship.

Check in. Once she’s up and running, continue to support her. Unexpected issues — both positive and negative — are sure to come up. Knowing she can rely on your support is a big deal.

Handle feedback. Teens are often surprised to discover that not everything they upload receives universal praise. YouTube comments are notoriously harsh. But dealing with feedback is a learning experience. These tips can help you coach her through it.

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