Growing Wireless is a collaborative effort to provide educational resources to parents so they can better teach their kids how to responsibly use mobile tech. One such resource developed as part of the initiative is the Parents’ Guide to Mobile Phones, which—among other things—offers answers to the five most common questions asked by parents when their kids begin using a cell phone.
While there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution, the Parents’ Guide has some valuable insight to these questions:
1. What’s the best age to get a child his or her first cell phone?
The short answer is, it depends. Only you can know if your child is mature enough to follow family rules, take care of the phone and not lose it. Another major factor is whether the child understands how to use the phone in a way that considers the feelings and rights of others.
More: Is Your Child Ready for a Phone?
The average age of kids getting their first mobile phones keeps going down. It was 16 a decade ago, according to the latest available data from Pew Research Center. In 2009, it was about 12. In 2013, Pew Research found that 68 percent of kids 12–13 own a cell phone and 23 percent a smartphone, while 83 percent of older teens (14–17) have cell phones and 44 percent have smartphones.
2. How can I limit or monitor what my kids do with their phones?
In addition to family rules and lots of communication, there are parental-control tools you can use to block access to websites and apps, monitor what kids are doing (including texting), and control who can call them. Verizon’s Family Safeguards & Controls options are a great place to start.
If you do use a parental-control tool, tell your child why you’re using it. Also consider how much information is too much. Some monitoring apps record a user’s every keystroke—even in text messages. Think about whether you really need to know the content of every text.
3. How can I make sure my child’s privacy is protected?
There are two types of privacy protection—the kind that can be set or installed on a phone, and the kind that develops as part of a person’s general awareness.
Privacy settings in apps and on phones can provide control over use of your child’s data, and parental controls can give you more control or oversight over his or her phone activities. Locking a phone reduces the risk of it being used by someone to impersonate the phone’s owner or bully others.
The second kind—learning how to protect the privacy of you and your friends—is just as important because the information users post and share with their smartphones has just as much impact on privacy as settings and other tech safeguards. Helping our kids share information carefully, showing respect for themselves and others, spells real protection of both privacy and well-being. It helps to be up front with your kids about the measures you take and together learn what rules and tools best keep their phone use positive and constructive.
4. How can I make sure my child only uses apps that are safe and appropriate?
The best way to ensure that your kids are using safe and appropriate apps is to talk with them about each app they use or want to use and do a little research to make sure it’s appropriate. You can look at reviews in the mobile app stores, search the Web for information about an app or talk with friends who have used it.
You could also have a rule that no app gets downloaded without a parent’s permission—or use parental controls to put app downloading behind a password, so your child can only download with your help.
Note that some apps, although appropriate, can be misused, so kids still need to make sure that what they share doesn’t jeopardize their privacy and security.
5. How do I control the cost of my child’s cell phone service and apps?
First, review your cell phone plan to make sure it’s appropriate for your child’s use. Factors to consider are limited or unlimited texting, the number of voice minutes and how much data can be used each month.
Also talk with your kids about Wi-Fi, which enables them to use their mobile devices to watch video or download apps without using data.
People can also run up costs buying and using apps, so consider having a family policy that addresses spending money for or within apps. Or, set a password that keeps them from buying apps or spending money via in-app purchases, which can really add up.
All things considered, setting limits on your child’s phone use can also help keep costs under control.
Check out a complete parents' guide to kids and tech on Verizon's Family Tech page.