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License to Wifi: Why Your Kid Needs Digital Driver’s Ed

Parents don’t teach teens to drive by turning them loose on the road. Earning a driver’s license requires teens to practice driving in the company of a licensed adult.

Monitoring a teen’s smartphone is akin to sitting next to them in the passenger seat; parents can spot dangers along the way, point out distractions and veer teens in a safer online direction.

When the time arrives for a teen—or pre-teen—to gain the independence of their own phone, it’s also the time for parents to have a conversation with kids about limitations, responsibilities and accessibility for their new device.

Parental Controls: The Wi-Fi Permit

Parental controls are necessary for parents to feel comfortable in introducing their child to the internet. Parental controls allow for parents to limit what apps their child’s use, and when. Parental controls can also be used to block sites flagged for inappropriate content or age restrictions. If you’re worried that your child may spend money on apps, get lured into fishy scams, or stumble upon a video you would never in a million years allow them to watch–parental controls will make all of this easy to avoid.

The best part? You decide what media they consume, and with some parental control apps you can even turn off the device.

Like taking away the car keys from an unruly teen, the power is back in the parent’s hands.

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Smartphone Phone Contract:  The Written Exam of Digital Citizenship

Once you feel your child may be ready to have their own smartphone, a smartphone contract is the easiest way to set expectations. Smartphone contracts are like the written part of a driver’s test. Teens should be expected to study the content of the contract, so that they understand what the rules and regulations include for phone use and digital citizenship. A phone is a privilege, not a right.

The contract should include a list of restricted apps (including reasons why they have been restricted), times that the phone may not be used (e.g. at the dinner table, after certain hours at night or in the morning) and who will be responsible for the costs related to stolen or lost phones.

A cell phone contract also is the ideal way to outline content exclusions for online use and social media. According to, about one out of every five or 10 teens have sent risqué photos. Some teens send graphic pictures as a joke or to look cool. But sometimes teens are coerced, and this is when the behavior can become dangerous and devastating. It’s a similar mindset to drunk driving–they don’t understand the consequences until it is too late.

Set hard boundaries about what photos and messages are acceptable and be clear about what content is forbidden to share. Not only can pictures be forwarded and saved, but they also could lead to legal trouble…and possibly criminal charges.

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Monitoring: A Parent in the Passenger’s Seat

Smartphone use is another source of freedom, and, like driving, the power to roam independently has to be earned. Teach teens that monitoring is an important safety tool, because smart phones provide a window to a nearly infinite universe. Unfortunately, the online universe is not the safest haven for kids and teens.

Use monitoring to empower kids. Many parents choose to monitor contacts, texts, apps, and social media Explain to younger teens why these actions will be monitored, and encourage them to tell if they have been contacted by someone who they don’t know online.

Some kids will self-report worrisome content, bullying tactics or any other online activity that they find concerning. However, other kids won’t mention anything. And, of course, some teens will see exactly how far they can push the boundaries.

Monitoring opens parents up to what is going on in their child’s online lives. Accessing contact info, messages, app downloads and social media activities gives parents a view from the passenger seat. Sometimes the results will be shocking, and parents will then have to decide how to move forward.

But what many parents discover through monitoring and openly discussing activities with their kids is that when the boundaries are set, many kids are respectful. And—while most teens won’t admit it—they actually learn the rules of the online superhighway from being virtually guided.

Smart phones open up a world wide web of information and accessibility to teens and kids, and the journey is truly limitless….but it’s up to parents to ensure that kids don’t veer off the road.

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