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Is your child ready for a cell phone for Christmas? Review these tips first

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'Tis the season of kids wanting cell phones and needing cyber civics! Many American teens and tweens will receive a gift of a cell phone this holiday season. After all, having a cell phone has become an important American Rite of Passage, but this significant status change in their lives brings risks that parents need to teach their child how to avoid or manage.

Parents would not let a kid jump in a pool without knowing how to swim nor give a teen the car keys without teaching them how to drive, so why would parents give children a phone without first teaching them how to responsibly use it?

If you aren’t familiar with tumblr, kik, Instagram, ask fm, snapchat, musically, Facebook and other popular social media apps used by kids, then you may not be ready for your child to have a cell phone. It is important for parents to be informed and prepared to work with their child to learn how to safely navigate social networks and apps so your child can benefit from the positive aspects of having a cell phone. Overseeing a tween or teens use of their phone is not spying on them, it is protecting them. Cell phones and the Internet invite the world into a home and a child’s life so parents need to be vigilante to ensure a child’s safe use of the phone. The developmental level of a teen’s brain does not enable them to fully grasp all consequences of behavior, so they need adult guidance.

Social media and cell phones can have a lot of positive benefits for youth as it enables them to build, create, search and socialize.
94% of parents underestimate the amount of fighting that occurs through social media among youth. Cyberbullying is defined as bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.
• Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone.
• Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
• Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.
There are a lot of aggressive tactics used by youth to hurt others by posting embarrassing photos taken without consent, excluding them from a group post or not tagging them in a photo even though they are in the photo. It is a method of exclusion and says “you were there, but we don’t like you.”
Cell phones and computers are not to blame for cyberbullying. It is the behavior of kids that can make social media a positive or negative experience. Social media sites can be used for positive activities, like connecting kids with friends and family, helping students with school, and for entertainment. But these tools can also be used to hurt other people.
Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to:
• Use alcohol and drugs
• Skip school
• Experience in-person bullying
• Be unwilling to attend school
• Receive poor grades
• Have lower self-esteem
• Have more health problems
• Experience depression, and possibly even attempt suicide.

There is hope that your kids can have a healthy relationship with their cell phone. Research shows that kids whose parents monitor their child’s cell phone use were less likely to be emotionally distraught about negative or hurtful social media posts from their peers. Today we are posting valuable parent resources on FOX59.com for parents, including family digital literacy activities you can do with your child before giving them a phone.

Five Things Parents Need to Know before Gifting a Cell Phone to their Kid:

1. Is your child ready? Are you ready?
Can your tween or teen handle a device that automatically connects them to the world? Are you willing to educate your kid on responsible use of the phone and supervise their use? Are you role modeling responsible phone etiquette and use for your child?

2. Cyber civics and safety:
It is critical for parents to teach children how to responsibly and safely use the phone and social networks. If you understand social media apps, then it is easier to have a conversation with a child about safely and responsibility using social media.

3. Sign on the dotted line:
Create a family contract surrounding the use of the phone. A contract can include how the phone ultimately belongs to the parents (legally if it is in the parent’s name then the parent is responsible for its use), how the parent will have access to all passwords related to the phone and apps on the phone, the hours the phone can be on and off, how it will be charged overnight in a centralized charging area that is not in the child's bedroom, and consequences if the family's phone rules are not followed.

4. Do not punish your kids by taking the phone away!
If your kids break the family rules related to their phone or do something else causing concern, do not punish them by taking the phone away. Doing so might make your kids less likely to open up about a problem they are encountering in person or online. If you use their phone as punishment, it takes away their social network (some compare it to taking away their oxygen) and they may then go “underground” and start hiding things from parents to avoid such punishment. As a parent, you want to be the trusted adult that your child can turn towards versus away from.

5. Parental controls using apps:
Parents should monitor any technology they give their kids to protect their children. There are many apps for parents such as WebSafely, TeenSafe, NetNanny, etc. See resources below.

Valuable online resources for parents on cyber civics and safety for children’s use of cell phones.

A family version of a digital literacy program meets an urgent need to help youth become ethical, knowledgeable, and empowered digital citizens. It includes four activities, video, full support and resources to teach key online safety lessons to your children at home. Learn more: Cyber Wise

Parental app descriptions and prices

Podcast for parents on “The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly: Social Networks & Apps Your Kids Use.”

FBI related resources on cyberbullying and cyber safety:  FBI.gov & Stopbullying.gov 

Parent resources to empower youth to lead happy, healthy and safe lives are available on the website: http://www.socialhealth.org or by calling 317-667-0340