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6 Tips for Teaching Kids Responsible Mobile Phone Usage

Growing up, we all learn that there is a time and place for everything. But today’s children, living in an age when whatever they want is a smartphone tap away, can struggle with that concept.

If a smartphone is on your family’s back-to-school supplies list, you should consider how your child will — and should — use it. These six tips can help cell phone users of all ages to stay safe and responsible with their mobile device.

1. Begin with the Basics

Parents who are going to put a mobile phone in the hands of a child should begin by demonstrating its most basic features. “They know about cell phones because they’ve seen parents using them,” says Maggie McGuire, vice president of Scholastic's online kids and parents channels. “But to actually put one in a child’s hands and have them use it independently for the first time — that's a totally different ballgame.” Simple instruction on making calls, controlling volume, taking photos and other aspects (like GPS-enabled location services) will go a long way with first-time users of all ages.

2. Teach Responsible Usage

Giving children the power to send communications around the world from the palm of their hands is an enormous responsibility, so make sure they understand that a cell phone is not a toy. For example, McGuire recommends parents teach their children to ask for permission to take photographs of other people or post the snapshots to social media. “Inappropriate pictures, embarrassing moments, harassing or bullying — those are real big topics today in the world of parenting and kids, and it translates quite a bit through the usage of these devices,” she says.

3. Set Limits

Teenagers have long been addicted to telephones, and adding mobile computing to the handset hasn’t made the fixation any easier to quell. Designate time slots for phone use, such as after homework and chores are completed. Also, requiring that phones not be allowed on bedside tables overnight can help encourage healthy, lifelong habits.

Also make sure to limit smartphone usage to certain apps and services. For example, Facebook has a minimum age restriction of 13 years old, but savvy children can get around that by simply lying. Knowing what apps are on your child’s smartphone is key to ensuring it’s being used for the right purposes.

4. Protect Your Privacy

Recently, online privacy has become a major concern, and all the issues that apply to that come with smartphones. Legally, children under 13 cannot disclose personal information online without a parent’s permission. Regardless of their age, teach your children to never share their personal information online, and show them how doing so can be harmful. “Anyone who sees it could drive up to your house and find you, or, given that address, could contact you using your email address, or call you on your cell phone if you publish it,” McGuire says. “That’s dangerous, because information is not always limited to the small circle of friends you might think it is.”

5. Keep It Covered

According to SquareTrade, Americans have spent more than $5.9 billion to fix their damaged iPhones since 2007. The simplest way to protect your phone, no matter the type or brand, is to invest in a carrying case, and keep it covered at all times — even at home, where 51 percent of iPhone-busting accidents have occurred.

Telling your kids to leave the phone in their bags isn’t enough. “My kids stuff their backpacks, and when they get to school, that backpack gets thrown on the playground as they run off and play,” McGuire says. "If the cell phone is in that backpack, it’s going to break.”

6. Be the Example of Etiquette

In simpler times, etiquette was about teaching children to take off their hat indoors or keeping their elbows off the dinner table. While these may seem like arbitrary, antiquated conventions, mobile phone manners can have much bigger ramifications. For example, using a cell phone in a movie theater isn’t just rude, it could get you ejected. Many schools have mobile phone policies that could result in punishment for students who repeatedly break the rules.

Moreover, phone use is about what’s appropriate and respectful — checking emails or text messages while at dinner today could result in a canceled date, lost job opportunity or more severe social repercussions later on. "We, as parents, need to be very aware of these guidelines ourselves and model them,” says McGuire. "Kids are going to do exactly what you do."

Creating Savvy Children

It’s always best to put these tips into practice while your children are young, but it’s never too late to get started making safe, polite cell phone decisions. Growing up in a connected world can be a challenge for children, but if parents set firm rules, simplify their own usage and lead by example, they’ll raise savvy students who can handle the challenge of smartphone ownership.

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