When it comes to sex, bullying, confidence, dating, you-name-it, we don't just have the responsibility to teach our tweens to make smart decisions — we have to make sure they're making smart choices with their smartphones. Here's why the smartphone talk is the most important ongoing conversations you need to have with your child.

Are you telling your child to be smart?

When you give your child his first smartphone, it becomes more than just a mechanism for calling, texting or getting online. It becomes a responsibility. But is that responsibility something you've talked to him about? We enlisted the help of Erin Nelson, Director of Brand Strategy & Communications for Safely and also a mother who is learning how to help her daughter who is what she calls "born mobile." She's giving us tips on how we can teach our children to gain healthy habits when using technologies like smartphones.

Have the talk — even before they own the phone

Everyone's better off if you lay groundwork early, then add more details, responsibilities and privileges as kids grow.

So you might be reading this article thinking, "I'm not going to give my child a smartphone any time soon," but even if that's how you feel, you should still be talking to your child about his "future" smartphone, according to Nelson.

"Smartphone education doesn't have to wait until you have the shiny object of adoration in hand, ready to give it over to your panting pre-teen. Everyone's better off if you lay groundwork early, then add more details, responsibilities and privileges as kids grow."

timerPhones count as screen time too

You might have rules when it comes to how much time your child is spending online or watching TV, but you should also remember that a phone should be monitored as well. Do you let your child have free reign with his phone? Do you take it from him at night? What are the rules? Nelson advises, "Remind kids — and yourself — that phones are screens. So when you're considering how much time you spend watching TV or playing computer games, don't forget to take into account how often you stare into that little glowing rectangle. It adds up. How do you want to use your days? Your evenings? Your weekends?"

Make digital wellness an ongoing conversation

When you think of the important things to discuss with your child, sex, drugs and alcohol probably come to mind. But does his smartphone? If it's not, it should, advises Nelson.

"Make 'digital wellness' a part of the conversations you have with your kids, just as their physical, sexual and emotional health must be addressed. Because smartphones are here to stay. And the ground is changing beneath our feet. The Safely Family Phone Agreement can be a good way to get the conversation going, since it's designed to introduce topics that parents and kids can revisit over time, as the family and the world change."

The 3Ps of phones

So where to begin? Nelson says you need to help your child learn the early 3Ps of phones: They're powerful, precious and private.

If you allow them to borrow it for a few minutes here and there, for games or music, make it clear that it's still your phone.

"The first phone kids will see is probably yours," says Nelson. "If you allow them to borrow it for a few minutes here and there, for games or music, make clear that it's still your phone. It's expensive, and they may be one tap away from accidentally harming something important. They may use it, but only with your permission and under your supervision."

"In that way, phones are like purses — you shouldn't just dig through someone else's willy-nilly. My sister-in-law learned this the hard way when her well-meaning 5- and 9-year-old daughters came running with her buzzing phone, reading aloud her new text along the way. 'Momma, what does 'damn straight!' mean?' As kids mature and use their own phones, this idea of power, price and privacy will naturally evolve," says Nelson.

Phones need to take a backseat

Nelson suggests that you make a vow that phones should never be seen as more important than the people who use them.

How many times have you been at a family gathering or out to dinner with your husband and you've been checking your phone more than you've been engaged in conversation? Now think about how that might be affecting your child. Nelson suggests that you make a vow that phones should never be seen as more important than the people who use them. "Technology's cool and fun. Texting, sending Facebook messages and posting photos are all great. But they're only an outward representation of the real, live people using them. That's what makes all this media so amazing: the human connections they bring. So remember that when you share and comment and argue, you're talking to a person, not an avatar. And help your kids understand that as they grow and begin having their own online interactions."

Nelson also advises establishing ground rules when it comes to your child's phone. "Vow that those people on the other end of the phone are rarely, if ever, more important at any given moment than the people right in front of you. Sitting down to dinner? No phones. Not even in pockets. Behind the wheel, driving some very precious cargo (your children, not to mention yourself) around? No phones. Not even in the front seat. Having real life moments? Put. Down. The. Phone."

The internet is forever

There's no way to set a match to an embarrassing text or photo, like we used to be able to do to love letters or bad poetry back in the day.

To your child, the smartphone is exciting. It's hours of fun. It's a direct link to any video, song, fact, etc. But is your child thinking about how what they decide to post, write and do online can affect them for life? "Remind your entire family that the Internet is forever — and it's not always right. There's no way to set a match to an embarrassing text or photo, like we used to be able to do to love letters or bad poetry back in the day. Pause before you peck away at the keys," says Nelson.

"Consider keeping certain things to yourself. Model this for your kids, too, by respecting their boundaries so they can learn how to respect others'. And remind them often that anything they share electronically can be manipulated in any number of ways, as can anything anyone else shares. Just because someone posted it on Wikipedia doesn't mean it's true …" adds Nelson.

Read more about smartphones

Moms addicted to smartphones
Online safety for tweens and teens
Are you a paranoid parent?

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