By Gabriella van Rij
Let’s face it: Smartphones make our lives convenient, so it shouldn’t surprise us when kids want in on the action, too. Planning to get your kid that first mobile phone he or she has been asking for?
Before you do, consider the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to giving smartphones and other digital devices for the holidays. Here are some things to be aware of:
- Smartphones can be weapons in the wrong hands and can be used to humiliate and bully.
- Cyberbullying on social media is a real thing, and parents must keep an eye out for signs that their child is a victim of cyber torment, or possibly that they are the instigators.
- Parents who give that first mobile phone as a gift must accompany the gift with teaching their children about social media etiquette and healthy online conduct.
- Smartphones can stifle family conversations, so agree with your child on some mobile phone-free times before you give that smartphone as a gift.
- Most importantly, remember you are the example—they see your social media profile and online behavior and are likely to replicate it.
What’s a good way to teach social media etiquette and healthy online conduct?
This might sound old-fashioned, but the best way to do this is by being kind, open, and gentle in your comments not only on social media, but also in your interactions with everyone. There shouldn’t be a double standard. And when you see someone being unkind in real life, be an active witness. Don’t do nothing! Do something. Say something, be active.
Remember you are the example. They see your social media profile and online behavior and are likely to replicate it.
What kinds of behavior might adults be engaged in that kids will model?
Bad language and strong opinions. Which is particularly true here in the U.S. during election season when emotions run rampant. Teach your child that we all judge, and we have a right to our opinions, but we need to use wisdom as to when and how to voice what we think. Tell your child how you feel about what is going on. Use those moments when they see something you wish they hadn’t as a platform to open the discussion.
Another thing: I see a lot of venting and emotional rants online, which just isn’t smart because that’s exactly when we say stuff we don’t really mean because we’re just trying to get it off our chest. But you can’t just say, “Sally, don’t vent online!” You need to also provide an alternative safe place where they feel they can be heard.
Also, emphasize re-reading comments before hitting enter.
Set guidelines before gifting the first mobile phone or tablet.
Smartphones can stifle family conversations, so agree with your child on some smartphone-free times beforehand. For example, make it a rule that during mealtimes phones are completely turned off (not even on vibrate mode, but totally OFF) and put in a pile in a different room. Or give them a phone, but then keep the charger and allow them only one full charge per day. If it runs out of batteries, let them get into a different activity.
Check out this free printable contract for kids and smartphones to establish rules for your child’s use of a first mobile phone.
How can you tell if a child is a victim of cyberbullying?
- Isolation. For example, when you pick your child up from school, does she frequently stand by herself, apart from her classmates? Sometimes, a student will isolate herself if she feels she is being ignored or ridiculed.
- Mood swings or loss of interest in previously anticipated activities.
- Being harassed online can consume your thoughts, upset your emotions, and cause loss of appetite and concentration.
- Overly aggressive behavior and mean speech. Students will mimic what they see being modeled around them. If your child is hurting, his actions will show it. Connect with your child’s emotions.
The leading voice of the Kindness movement, Gabriella Van Rij works to spread the message that we are all unique and we each have something to offer the person next to us. She has a non-profit 501(c)(3) foundation in the US and is based in Los Angeles, California.