Parents Read This: Before You Give Your Kid a Smart Device


Blog Post by DJ Grick


With Christmas just around the corner I am sure most parents are getting begged for the newest smart phone, tablet, or iPod from your child. Maybe your child has even pointed out early elementary students that have their own phone. The pressure society has put on students to be digitally connected keeps going up. But for most parents it’s hard to stay on top of what apps, games, and site your child is visiting.

As a youth pastor I have sat across the table from too many parents and teenagers (and even elementary school students) who made foolish mistakes with digital technology. Parents always say “I didn’t think it would be my kid”. And students regularly say things like “I ended up there by accident…but can’t stop looking now” or “I didn’t think I would ever send something like that…I don’t know what I was thinking”.

I beg you before you get your child a smart device create a clear plan to safeguard them. They may act like they hate it, but they would hate the consequences of poor decisions even more.

Set clear expectations:

I believe the majority of friction between parents and children is caused by unclear expectations. Sometimes it’s parents not communicating well, sometimes it’s children hearing what they want, and often it’s husbands and wives not being on the same page. No matter what the normal cause in your home is make sure you know what is expected if your child has a smart device and do your best to communicate those expectations up front. If you and your spouse are not on the same page then WAIT before getting your child a device. It’s unfair for you to put them in the middle and make them try to keep you both happy.

Be strict on day 1. It’s always easier to loosen expectations then it is to tighten them!

Here are some questions to help you form expectations for your child:

1. Will they need to grant you access to see their phone whenever, wherever, for whatever reason?
2. Will they be allowed to have their phone in their room at night?
3. Will they be allowed to have their phone in school? At the dinner table? At Church? At Grandma’s house?
4. Who are they allowed to contact with their phone?
5. Will there be data limits they need to stay in?
6. What happens if they lose or break their phone?
7. What consequences will they have if they break your expectations?

This is not an exhaustive list, but just enough to get you thinking.

Make them earn it:

Although Christmas may seem like the best time to give them an expensive new toy, it might be better to hold off and allow your child to earn their smart device. Unfortunately, children are not born with an understanding of value. If you give them a phone or other devise as a gift they have zero equity in it. They have no understanding of its value and how the value equates to time worked. So when they crack the screen or drop it in water the expectation is that you immediately replace the device. On the other hand if they had to work to earn the phone, and continue working to pay for it, they will be more likely to take good care of it.

Now I should give some clarifications on what I mean by “work” and “earn”. Stef and I have already decided for our household a cell phone will be a privilege that comes with a job. Our children will need to cover their costs. Other families may choose to use grades, or chores as a form of earning the phone. No matter what you decide make sure the expectation is set and you follow through.

Control Access:

Remember you are the parent. Even if they are earning their phone you are still their authority even over things they have earned. Make sure you are in control. Many wireless providers will allow you to setup internet filtering, which is a great start, and even worth an extra expense each month, but raising your child well is going to take a more hands on approach.

Setup their device for them. I know this takes a lot of the fun out of un-packaging a new “toy” and going through all the new prompts but it will allow you to create their user accounts and passwords for them. They can still have a different pin which they know for unlocking their phone. But the password used for installing apps or updates is something most teens don’t need. By holding on to it yourself you remove the fear of them downloading one of these tricky apps that look innocent but are not. Just make sure you are going to remember (or write down) what the password is.

Be picky on which apps they get. Spend time getting to know what social media platforms they want to be on. Maybe download the platform and use it on your phone for a few weeks before you allow them to use it themselves. This will show you areas to be watchful. Once you are ready to let them use the platform, setup an account with them (again holding the password yourself). Now they can never lock you out. The one danger is that they can at any point sign you out and create another account (but if that happens you will notice when you are checking in on them). As they start using social media consider making it something you do together. Sign in for them, post together, scroll together, and sign out.

Check in on them. This may sound nosy but you wouldn’t let you child roam the streets of Philly without some oversite. Why would you them let them wonder the internet without oversite. Once in a while ask for their phone to make sure they are staying within the expectations. Check their Chrome and Safari history (if you don’t know what this means or how to do it, let me Google that for you).

Watch out for false gods. Games have a way of consuming our lives. Watch out for apps that your child is spending too much time in. They may have become an idol in your home. If so delete the app (remember they can’t install it again without the password only you have). Make sure you have clear conversations with your child before deleting it, while deleting it, and after deleting it. Just a few weeks ago Stef and I deleted YouTube kids off an old iPad that our daughters use because they were putting the app above relationship with people and fighting us when we said their time was up.

Keep relationships over Technology. In my house the phrase “relationships over technology” comes up a lot. It’s so easy to get sucked into a text message or feed and forget the people right in front of us. As a couple Stef and I work to hold each other accountable so we can lead our children well. There are times we need to be on our phones, but we work to communicate to our kids that it’s temporary and an estimated amount of time until they have our full attention. We expect the same from them. When someone arrives if they are on an iPad or watching TV and don’t pause to greet the person, they immediately lose that privilege. Create high standards in your house to ensure you love each other more than technology.