When plans change, practice ends early, or you’re running late, a cell phone is a parent’s best friend — but it will only keep your child safe if you set the right rules and talk about risks. Try these tips for preteen protection, and make sure you set a good example by following them yourself.
1. Start Simple
Show him how to use the phone, pointing out valuable features like the key lock, vibrate, and alarm. Program the speed dial with your contact information and other emergency numbers. For extra security, consider buying one of several models designed just for kids. Some require parents to enter all phone numbers, so kids can only send and receive calls from approved individuals.
2. Limit Usage
Designate time slots for talking — perhaps after homework and chores are completed, or before dinner. Don’t let constant calls interrupt family time, such as meals or even the car ride to school. It’s easy for a chatty child to cuddle up to an itty-bitty phone as she heads to bed, so check in periodically.
3. Teach Responsibility
Make sure your child understands a cell phone is not a toy. Explain the fees associated with text messages, data use, games, apps, and sharing photos. It’s a good opportunity to learn a lesson about budgeting. If his phone has extra features, set limits.
4. Keep It Private
Instruct her to use caution when giving out her number. If she needs to exchange contact information with someone she doesn’t know very well, she should feel comfortable taking the other person’s number instead of providing her own. Make sure she does not publicize her number on the internet.
5. Assess Before Answering
Teach your child not to answer calls or text messages from numbers he doesn’t recognize. If it is important, the caller will leave a message, and your child can decide how to respond. Explain how to block calls from unwanted numbers.
6. Exercise Etiquette
In addition to enforcing your own rules, make sure your child respects the rules of other establishments. Phones should be turned off or silenced at hospitals, movie theaters, and restaurants, for example. Restrict use during after-school activities or on the bus.
7. Stay Organized
Always keep your child’s cell phone charger in the same place. It’s best to find a central location — like a kitchen counter, or a table by the door — so she won’t forget to plug it in or grab it on the way out. Mark the end of the monthly billing cycle on a calendar to remind her how long those dwindling minutes have to last.
8. Protect Your Property
Invest in a carrying case or cover to protect the phone from spills, scratches, drops, or bottomless backpacks! Teach your child to be discreet and keep the phone tucked away when not in use. It isn’t safe to flash phones, wallets, jewelry, mp3 players, or other valuable possessions in public places like shopping malls or bus stops.
9. Utilize Your Landline
Some parents recommend having your child hand over her phone when she gets home. If your family has one, a landline will work for any necessary social or school-related phone calls throughout the evening, without using up any minutes.
10. Be Wary of Download Overload
Fun ringtones, games, and backgrounds can be amusing, but before revamping the phone, consider the facts. Such features are unnecessary and can come with potential bugs or hidden fees. Your child may also be more likely to show them off, risking theft or loss.