Mobile phones. Probably one of the biggest decisions we as parents have to make for our children as they reach the tween years and onwards. When to let them have a phone, and what mobile phone rules to set in place for our children.
*Ad – contains affiliate links
Pressure from children
There’s often a lot of pressure from children saying ‘all my classmates have them’ and that they need social media because they’re missing out and everyone else is on it. It’s hard to decide when is right for your child and your family.
It’s also harder to decide when parents don’t have the same opinion. Our house is a bit split. Mainly because I want to lock everything down, making sure the phone isn’t accessible overnight, leaving time to ease off before bedtime. I’m the one who’s done the research and uses social media myself. I know the watch outs and ones I’d avoid. Whereas the OH is only on Snapchat (the worst in my opinion for being able to hide what’s being shared and seen, and one I’m not on), but oblivious to how social media works, the dangers and making sure children are safe from the worst.
It needs to be parents setting the boundaries not the child. We didn’t have too much hassle about phones. I had always explained the reasons why we’d be holding off on phones. And explained the implications of mobile phones and social media over the years, so it wasn’t a surprise when he really started mentioning them that I might be pushing back.
I’d already said a phone wasn’t necessary until secondary school. Luckily most of his school friends didn’t have them anyway, so there was less pressure in our house.
What stage did we allow mobile phones
N did have a basic phone (bought by the OH) during lockdown so when he was walking the dog he could contact us if needed. We held out until the final half term of primary school for a smartphone.
This was so he could get used to the responsibility of having a phone ahead of secondary school where he’d be getting the bus for the first time and would be having to arrange to see friends without me knowing parents. High school also use apps for homework, so he’d need to be able to access those too.
The plan was that by the time he started secondary school, he’d have got over the silliness as he and his friends got used to messaging each other. There were some fall outs and parents pulling children out of whatsapp groups after checking phones. But generally it was all age appropriate and sensible (boring) chat.
I chose Android (a Samsung*) because I use Android phones and I’d be the one setting the limits, overseeing, and checking in. It meant I could easily use Google Family Link. It was also a much more reasonably priced cheap phone than Apple, which still looks good and has everything he needs, but for a first phone he can learn to look after it without much risk.
Our mobile phone rules
No social media (until at least 13, but ideally older)
At the moment we’ve got an under 13, so the main rule is no social media under 13. I don’t include Whatsapp in this, as this is the main way they communicate with friends outside of school.
He does watch a lot of Youtube – knowing that I see who he’s watching and checking they’re safe viewing. I’ve been happy with the trust of what he’s watching so far, but I do worry about what school mates add to his Whatsapp groups from other social media or Reddit that I wouldn’t want him to see. I have to rely on trust for that, as well as keeping an eye on it.
Screen time limits
Tweens shouldn’t have unlimited time they can spend on their phones each day. They need time off screens, to be children, to learn from other things, enjoy physical activity and converse with family and friends in person. There’s been recommendations that children have no more than two hours of screen time per day, but with phones that easily adds up.
Currently his screens turn off 30 minutes before bedtime, and come on again at 7 (he wakes a lot earlier than that). He is outside quite a lot and obviously in school can’t use his phone, so as long as he has a balance I’m not too concerned.
Keep phones out of the bedroom at night
Blue light and the fact that a phone is accessible, can disrupt sleep and negatively impact health and wellbeing. So his phone’s always downstairs charging overnight.
Set guidelines for phone usage during meal times
We’re meant to have no phones at the table (the OH always looks at his after he’s finished which annoys me as it doesn’t set a good example). Meal times should be about eating and catching up as a family.
Phone monitoring will take place
With Google Family link, I set the screen limits, but it means I can still access his phone with myshould monitor their tween’s social media activity and have access to their accounts to ensure they are not engaging in inappropriate behavior or being bullied.
Downloads need to be requested
N knows he can download free apps, but they have to be approved either by me in person or via sending me a notification of request. Again, Family Link does the job. So far, they’ve been really basic games, or official football websites.
Educate on responsible phone usage
Teach tweens about responsible phone usage, not sharing personal information online, and being respectful when communicating with others. They can get caught up in conversations and not realise what they write isn’t appropriate, but this is where parents need to step in.
Remove children from groups if required
Whatsapp is great for messaging, but children need to be aware of what is and isn’t allowed, and that not to join all groups. Luckily N has avoided joining some large groups set up at school, although he is now in his tutor group one. It’s pretty tame, so I’m ok with him being in there at the moment, although I have removed him from another group because of the people in it. I’ve found the children mostly monitor their groups themselves. The
Encourage alternative activities that involve no screens
Luckily N does go outside quite a lot, and quite likes board games. But it is still hard to draw him off his phone.
Have open communication
It’s always important to discuss decisions, and help them understand why. Generally, they had online safety education through primary school as well, but be open so they can come to you with any concerns or issues they may encounter online. N’s school also send warnings or watch outs to parents of any online issues they’ve seen or heard about, so it means we’re aware of potential issues, and give us the chance to discuss them with children as appropriate.
Generally I’ve been pleased at how responsible he’s been with it. Now I just need to get him to actually put the phone down when doing chores or walking around the house instead of having it permanently on in the background.
What mobile phone rules do you have with your children?