When to give your child today’s most coveted gift—their first smartphone (or a “connected” device of any kind)—is one of the biggest decisions a parent will have to make. Remember, a “connected device” is any gadget that connects to the internet. In addition to smartphones, this includes tablets, computers, gaming consoles, e-readers, smartwatches, and even Bluetooth- enabled toys and assistants. All of these have the capability of connecting your kids to all the world’s people and information, all the time. Any missteps they make on a connected device may be permanently recorded, for everyone to see. This is a weighty responsibility, and kids are woefully unprepared without guidance.
When parents ask, “What’s the right age to give my children (insert type of connected device here)?” we counter their question with one of our own. Well, seven questions, to be exact. We think every parent should first answer these questions before determining whether his child is ready for a connected device:
• Have your children developed the social and emotional skills
necessary to use their gadgets wisely? Have they learned how to
show empathy, kindness, respect, and civility? These capacities
evolve over time. They are in high demand online, and when
expressed there, can turn it into the safer, kinder environment
adults dream about.
• Do your children know how to manage their online reputations?
Increasingly, colleges and employers (and others) are looking
to the internet to learn about our kids. So, do your children know that everything they post, and everything others post about them, contributes to an online reputation that speaks volumes about their character?
• Do your children know how to unplug? By their own accounts,
teens say they feel “addicted” to their devices.21 Have you equipped
your children with strategies (and reasons) to unplug from their
virtual worlds and plug into “real” life now and then?
• Do your children know how to make and maintain safe and healthy relationships? Can they keep themselves safe from cyberbullying,
predators, sexting, revenge porn, sextortion, and other
online dangers? Do they know what to do if they encounter (and
they probably will) dangerous or unhealthy relationships online?
• Do your children know how to protect their privacy and personal
information? In the excitement to sign up for new services and to share with friends, many kids unwittingly give away too much personal information, especially when those too young to
know better use social media. (Three-quarters of children between
ages ten and twelve have social media accounts, despite being
below the minimum age requirement.)
• Do your children know how to think critically about the information
they find online? Are they able to evaluate media messages
for their accuracy, authority, currency, and bias? Not knowing
how to do so leaves kids vulnerable to misinformation, “fake news,”
• Are your children equipped to be digital leaders? Do they know
how to be upstanders? The internet is in desperate need of kids who
can stand up to bullies, create inspiring content, make moving videos,
share uplifting stories, and invent new technologies that
improve our world. Are your kids equipped to make their digital
world better and safer?
If your answer to any of these questions is “no,” then your children are not ready for the massive responsibility of owning a connected device. The stakes are too high. However, they can learn all of these life skills. Here's how!