Smartphone rules to lay down before giving the digital device to your child.

Smartphone dangers: Set ground rules now!

Whether it is an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy Note, smartphones are everywhere today. Singapore, in particular has an especially high penetration rate of teenagers owning and using the smartphone — some 87 per cent of our 5.4 million population own smartphones.

With the growing intelligence and capabilities built into these devices, giving children smartphones is a huge responsibility and a possible danger (to your pockets and health). We show you what you need to do before handing the phone to junior:

1. Set limits on usage

Many youngsters are easily susceptible to the lure of the smartphone — from updating their statuses on social media, to checking for incoming texts and over-sharing. Consider what is acceptable for your family and then sit down and discuss with your child:

• Who are they allowed to call?
• How many minutes are they allowed to use each month on the phones, or how many SMSes can they send and receive, or how much data (downloads, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter or WeChat) can they download?
• What apps are they allowed to download and use?
• Are there apps that are strictly off-limits? You need to discuss with your child why this is so.
• At what time each night must the smartphone be put to bed — (for their sleep’s sake we suggest nestled in a charger, far away from the child)?
• Can the child bring the smartphone to school? Use it when hanging out with friends?
• Who pays the monthly bill?
• What are the consequences for violating the agreed upon guidelines?

As a guide, Daniel Koh from Insights Mind Centre recommends that children under the age of 3 should not be exposed to any form of tech. Children older than 3 can be exposed to smartphones for less than 15 minutes per session with at least an hour break in between.

Koh says, “If children are bringing their smartphones to school, they should be kept in their schoolbags at all times and used in emergency situations only. Parents must ensure that phones are not used for gaming and surfing the Internet otherwise children may end up not interacting with others, not joining in activities and it may also distract them from their schoolwork. ”

He suggests that parents take phones away if children are exceeding their monthly phone bill, so that children will learn to use the phone within limits.

2. Netiquette

The world of smartphones and social media can be a cruel playground, so set clear rules about netiquette. Cyber-bullying is becoming a big issue, so make sure that your child is able to identify cyber-bullying — these can come in the form of cruel messages, taunts or mean comments. At the same time, stress to your child not to be a bully online either — talk to them about why posting mean comments, spreading gossip, posting or forwarding embarrassing or unethical photos are strictly unacceptable.

However, despite attempts to educate your child about identifying cyber bullying, some children will not share such incidents with parents. Koh suggests looking out for changes in your child’s mood or behaviour. Such signs include being quiet, sad, depressed, anxious when approaching people or when engaging in social media or experiencing angry outbursts, attempts at self harm, entertaining suicidal thoughts, isolating himself or displaying poor sleeping or eating behaviours.

3. Build real-life relationships

The advent of social media sites and apps has created a culture in which personal value is measured more by the number of followers one has on social media sites rather than the quality of relationships your child has with his friends.

Help your child remember that is important to spend time on real-life interactions rather than reel-life interactions. For instance, make it a rule that phones should be kept aside during meal times or family time and make sure that you, yourselves, follow that rule.

Koh says, “Exposing the child to group activities, developing his hobbies and spending quality time together as a family can ensure the child is not obsessed with social media usage.”

4. Maintain privacy

Show your child how to set up privacy features offered by social networking sites. Sites such as Facebook and Instagram have privacy settings which allow users to display information to certain groups of people (user’s friends and family etc). Such privacy settings can be useful to prevent strangers from accessing their profiles.

There may also be instances where strangers try to befriend your child or leave cruel comments (“trolling”) on their profile. Teach your child how to “block” these comments and requests on social media.

5. Privacy within the family

As your child grows into a teenager, there will be that age-old struggle for privacy and autonomy; discuss with your child to help them understand that you should be privy to the content they are posting on social media.

Set clear guidelines and let your child know that you have the right to access their phone, browsing history and social media pages on a regular basis. While some teenagers sulk and throw tantrums about it, social media pages are breeding grounds for unethical media usage so it is best to keep tabs on their activities early on.

Photo: iStock

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