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100 Tips for Nannies and Families

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Giving Your Kids Cell Phones and Computers

Modern parents know that growing up without access to technology is a thing of the past.  The I-grew-up-just-fine-without-a-computer-and-my-kids-can-too flow of logic no longer applies in a world with computer use required in students’ daily schoolwork, safety hazards that can be mitigated by cell phone use, etc.  Therefore, it is no longer a question of whether cell phones and computers should be provided to kids, but rather at what age kids should be provided with cell phones and computers . . . and how parents can best handle putting this technology in the hands of their kids.

Kids should have their own cell phones as soon as they are old enough to know their numbers (since they’ll need that knowledge to call people) and have time away from their parents, such as when they begin kindergarten (since a cell phone is an important safety tool should they run into trouble in the absence of their parents).  Start simple . . . no smart phones ‘til your kids get older.  Choose a voice and data plan that you and your kids can live with.  Seriously consider getting the cell phone insurance that your cellular company may offer you.  Give your kids safety cases in which they can carry their cell phones . . . cases that will help protect their phones in the event that they are dropped or otherwise treated roughly.  (Keep in mind that young kids are still developing their fine motor skills.)  The cases can snap onto your kids’ belt loops, fit in their pockets, or otherwise facilitate keeping the phone handy at all times.  Talk to your kids about appropriate use of their cell phones (i.e., do not use the cell phone during class time, do not use the built-in camera to take pictures that they wouldn’t want you or your spouse to see, etc.).

Kids should have their own computers (tablets or laptops) whenever their schoolwork requires their bringing a laptop or tablet to class.  Some schools even provide laptops or tablets to their students.  If your kids attend schools without such requirement, your kids may not need (but will likely still want) a computer of their own.  Kids’ computer access typically starts by using the family computer (usually a desktop computer) with parental supervision and instruction . . . but usually by the pre-teen period, kids are sufficiently academically advanced, socially skilled, and able to use their fine motor skills that they are well suited for a laptop or tablet computer of their own.  Regardless of when you give your kids their own computers, ensure that you concurrently give them carrying cases that will help protect their computers in the event that they are dropped or otherwise treated roughly.  Talk to your kids about appropriate use of their computers (i.e., do not access age-inappropriate websites, do not become social networking friends with people they do not know in the real world, do not post any safety sensitive information such as their home address or Social Security numbers, do not overlook stranger-danger on the Internet, do not behave inappropriately when video-teleconferencing, do not download software that you have not approved, etc.)

After your kids have had their cell phones and computers for about three months, you can review their usage and strategize your response.  Using their cell phones, have they called people too late at night?  Are they texting too much and causing extra charges to be added to your monthly cell phone bill?  Have they taken camera phone pictures that they shouldn’t?  Have they used their computers to surf the ‘Net and view inappropriate websites?  Have they signed up for social networking against your expressed wishes?  Based on your review, you can strategize your response.  Should you praise your kids for handling their technology appropriately?  Do you need to redirect your kids’ cell phone or computer-related behaviors?  Do you need to change your kids’ cell phone plans?  Should you require that your kids turn their cell phones over to you once you and they are home each evening?  This review and strategizing should occur periodically for as long as your kids are kids.

By following the tips above, you can give your kids the technology they need, when they need it, and provide them the tools to handle their technology appropriately.

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