Written by 9:30 am Preschooler & Up

What’s The Right Age to Get My Child His First Smartphone?

We consult Nick Savvides, Security Advocate at Norton by Symantec, for his insight on when parents should get their children their first smartphone.

Here’s a tricky question: at what age should you get your child his first smartphone? Stumped? Well, we were too. Afterall, no two children are the same and a child’s sense of responsibility and maturity level are two crucial factors to consider in this tech quagmire. The issue is being increasingly debated as kids here in Singapore and around the globe are owning smartphones at an even younger age.

Since the smartphone is now one’s passport to a cyber-world that’s a double-edged sword, parents’ worries about smartphone safety are understandable. So how can you determine the ideal time for your young one to be a proud smartphone owner (according to Bill Gates, the right age is 14)? We speak to Nick Savvides, Security Advocate at Norton by Symantec, to find out more about the concerns surrounding child smartphone ownership.

(See also: 7 Ways to Ensure Your Child’s Internet Safety)

What are some advantages of getting my child his own smartphone?

Growing up in a digitally connected city like Singapore, many are heavily reliant on smartphones and technology to stay connected with one another. As communication apps such as Whatsapp and Telegram continue to expand and improve their functions, parents can easily connect with their children at any time and anywhere.

That’s not all. Schools are also starting to introduce digital skills into their curriculum, making it increasingly difficult to keep children away from digital tools such as smartphones and computers which may be required for school work. Rather than having children sneak behind their parents’ back, it would be better to guide and correct their digital behaviours from young to instil healthy cyber security habits and responsible smartphone usage.

What about the dangers?

The Norton Cyber Security Insights Report (NCSIR) 2016 revealed that while 71 percent of parents allow children to access the Internet before age 11, many still hosted a wide range of concerns. For example, almost half (48%) of Singaporean parents believe that their children are more likely to be bullied online than on a playground.

In addition to cyberbullying, parents’ chief concerns were that their children might:

  • Download malicious programs or a virus (67%)
  • Disclose too much personal information to strangers (66%)
  • Be lured into meeting a stranger in the physical world (65%)
  • Do something online that makes the whole family vulnerable (55%), embarrassed (50%) or haunts them in the future with regards to job or university prospects (50%)

“After all, young children may not always be able to comprehend the possible dangers of the online world – even if it is as simple as downloading a virus to their smart devices,” explains Nick.

(See also: Cyber Security and Your Children)

How can I teach my child about responsible smartphone usage?

Parents can and should help their children learn and grow into the habit of responsible smartphone usage, or any other smart devices for that matter. In fact, the majority of parents in Singapore (78%) agree that it is their duty to teach their children responsible Internet habits according to the NCSIR 2016. You should start the conversation with your children from an early age. Have an open and candid discussion on appropriate online behaviours and set age-appropriate rules so that your kids don’t feel that these rules are being enforced on them unfairly.

Rather than using a top-down approach to intimidate your children, a more effective way would be to have conversations and educate them on online safety. One way is to use real life examples taken from the news to discuss the dangers of the Internet and create awareness of issues such as sexting, cyberbullying, online predators and privacy. “From there, you can discuss responsible smartphone usage that can help avoid such dangers,” advises Nick.

What are some types of parental controls available on smartphones?

It’s not possible for parents to monitor their children’s online activities 24 hours round the clock so that is where parent control technologies can step in to help. According to the NCSIR 2016, almost seven in 10 parents in Singapore agree that parents should leverage technology’s offerings to monitor and control their child’s online experience. Yet, only 22 percent actually use parental monitoring software on their child’s smart devices.

Parental control tools, such as Norton Family, can help parents ensure that their children are exploring, learning and enjoying their connected world safely through:

  • Supervision of Internet usage: Without having to be glued to their children 24/7, parents can still stay in the know about which sites their kids are visiting and block harmful or inappropriate sites.
  • App supervision: Parents can have visibility on which apps their children have downloaded on their smartphone, and possess the flexibility to choose which ones they can use (such as YouTube and Facebook) or block the apps they don’t want them to use. Furthermore, parents can also see the top apps used by their children and intervene if necessary.
  • Insight on children’s web surfing habits: Parents can uncover the search terms their child has keyed into his smartphone to find out more about his interests and intervene if required.

(See also: 10 Free Online Tools For Parents & Kids)

So what’s the right age to get my child her first smartphone then?

“It’s difficult to assign a definite age for parents to get their child his or her first smartphone,” says Nick. Instead, it’s more important that parents assess whether their child is sufficiently prepared and ready to assume the responsibilities of owning one. Having an open conversation between parent and child is key here. Does your child understand the potential dangers online? Does he know how to respond if faced with an uncomfortable or difficult situation online? Is he aware of the security practices that should be followed?

What should I take note of before my child becomes a smartphone owner?

While it is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online, they should be careful not to overdo it either. Children who feel that their parents are invading their privacy might start hiding their online behaviours. Aside from monitoring children’s online and smartphone usage, parents should set age-appropriate house rules on smartphone usage together with their children.

This could, for example, be limiting the number of hours that a child spends on his phone a day, or making sure that parents download apps themselves first to become familiar with what their children will be doing. Of course, it is equally important that parents themselves act as a positive role model for children and lead by example. For instance, if you are against your children fiddling with their smartphones at the dining table, you need to be conscious that you aren’t doing the same too!

(See also: How to Handle Your Child’s Usage of Mobile Apps)

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