Five things to do before giving your teenager a smartphone

Feb 4, 2017
How To

For many parents, the primary concern with buying their teenager a smartphone is not whether or not to get one, but when the appropriate time to do so is. In recent studies, approximately 91% of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 now own smartphones which emphasizes the demand for these devices among the younger demographics. While obvious reasons for giving teenagers a smartphone exist such as enhanced communication or greater safety measures, concerns also surround exposing them to the highly sophisticated nature of these devices. For example, carelessly “checking-in” poses risks for outsiders who may be tracking the users. Furthermore, it may pose as a distraction for young drivers as well as drive up the costs for those who utilize a lot of data from their subscription plan. Given these risks, if a phone is necessary, the pros and cons must be fully evaluated to establish the ground rules that can help with managing the device usage. This list describes the five things that are highly recommended before giving a teenager a smartphone.

Dangers of Location Features

Given how simple it has become to share current location statuses with others such as through “checking-in” with Facebook or Foursquare, it is not sensible for teenagers to do so carelessly. However, it is sometimes important to know where the teenager is for safety reasons among family members while keeping this information from being shared to the public is equally crucial. In order to ensure that the information is only available to those who should know, it is advised that applications which enable for the display of location be limited. For example, the settings in Facebook should be restricted such that only certain people are able to see location updates so that the wrong people do not have access to the information. Furthermore, for applications that have no filter on the audience receiving the information (Foursquare often blends with Twitter updates which make it difficult to restrict who receives location updates), they should be avoided altogether to reduce the chances of unwanted attention.

Education on Smart Usage

Most cell phone carriers no longer provide unlimited data, and the top plans for 5GB of data run about $50 per month. You can go with a cheaper plan or avoid expensive over-usage fees by insisting that your teenage kids use wireless Internet whenever possible for data-intensive activities. This is a no-brainer when they’re at home as you are likely already paying for an Internet connection to tap into. So, before they download apps and video clips or begin a marathon session of a multiplayer game, have them make sure the settings are adjusted on their smartphones and confirm they are connected to the home network.

To avoid the high fees that are associated with overusing data, it is advised that parents educate their teenager on when and when not to use data.

Finding Wi-Fi networks is also possible when they are out and about. There are also useful apps available for iPhones and Android devices that will point you to businesses and locations in your area that offer free Wi-Fi. To avoid the high fees that are associated with overusing data, it is advised that parents educate their teenager on when and when not to use data. This may be obvious to many, but devices often automatically turn on data once a Wi-Fi network is not made available, something that users are not aware of before it is too late. For instance, if a teenager is watching a movie on Wi-Fi but then leaves the house, data might automatically be enabled on the device which cuts into the usage limit. Prior to giving the teenager the device, the setting on the phone should be adjusted as to not overuse the data by accident.

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Safety Implications

Despite the legal consequences associated with driving and texting, the dangers of doing so far outweigh any benefits that the usage may bring. From texting to simply browsing on the smartphone, teenagers, especially those who are inexperienced at driving, can pose a significant threat to not only themselves, but to others on the road. For this reason, it is highly suggested that teenagers be made aware of the dangers before being given a smartphone. Further to this, many phones currently come with a hands-free option to enable the use of the phone while driving through voice commands so that users are not distracted. This feature should be explained and taught to teenagers with smartphones as to give them more flexibility when driving.

make it impossible for teenagers to text while driving

Several carriers have subscription-based services which make use of GPS technology within the smartphone in order to make it impossible for teenagers to text the moment they are moving at a certain speed. With this, they will be unable to send a text while driving, preventing the risks of accidents while the hands-free option will enable them to use certain functions of the device with their voice. This subscription service should be considered prior to giving any teenager a smartphone for maximum safety.

Cost-Effective Alternatives

For many parents, the most economical means of providing a teenager with a smartphone is by purchasing a prepaid phone as opposed to getting a second line on the existing phone plan. The reason for this is because prepaid plans are already limiting in the bill so that teenagers are not able to overuse phone plans as well as it is typically cheaper than an additional line. Most notably, it may be more financially beneficial to open a second line on the existing plan as many carriers provide discounts for additional phone lines added. Secondly, with a second line, there are significant options for more parental control. For example, phone plans allow for a set limit of texting and calling a month so that parents can restrict how much the phone is being used. A recent study revealed that an average teenager sends at least 60 texts a day which makes the use of a plan with limits more beneficial.

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While there are perils and expenses that exist with providing a teenager with a smartphone, many beneficial possibilities are evident with owning one. For example, some applications will help them get ready for various tests while others enable for mobile learning. There are apps that will help them prepare for the SATs and other standardized tests and view three-dimensional renderings of molecules. Furthermore, owning a smartphone will serve as a benchmark for responsibilities as this is most likely the first major piece of technology that they will own. Although it may seem difficult at times to give such autonomy to teenagers, it is important to understand the changes in society and to adapt to them rather than hide. In doing so, easing the device into the life of the teenager can be done through restrictions that slowly ease up over time as they use it with greater responsibility and behavior.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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