When to give a child their first “connected device” — aka a smartphone or any gadget that connects to the internet — has become one of the biggest decisions any parent will make.
Even if it’s a gaming console, e-reader or smartwatch, parents are aware that all of these devices are capable of connecting their child to a world of people and information at all times.
Any misstep might end with information about your child recorded permanently for everyone to see. This is a big responsibility for a child, particularly if they are left unprepared and without guidance.
Here are 7 questions that parents can use as a guide to determine if their child is ready to have their own electronic device:
Has your child developed the emotional skills necessary to use their gadget wisely?
Have they learned how to show empathy, kindness, respect, and civility? These capabilities evolve over time but when those skills are practiced and expressed on the internet, they can result in a safer and a kinder online environment.
Does your child know how to manage their online reputation?
Increasingly, not only employers but friends and colleagues are checking the internet to learn more about their friends. So, does your child know that everything they post on the internet contributes to their online reputation which reveals a great deal about their character?
Does your child know how to unplug?
Children and teens, in their own words, admit they are “addicted.” Have you equipped your child with strategies that help them disconnect from the virtual world into the real world?
Does your child know how to make and maintain safe and healthy relationships?
Can they keep themselves safe from bullying, predators and other online dangers? Does your child know what to do if they encounter a dangerous or unhealthy relationship online? Do they know the red flags to look for?
Does your child know how to protect their privacy and personal information?
Teenagers and children can be more willing to give away information for new subscription services. Is your child aware of that and have they been briefed on what to keep private?
Does your child know how to think critically about the information they find online?
Are they able to evaluate messages from different sources? Do they understand bias? Children can be vulnerable to misinformation – they need to be monitored and mentored.
Is your child ready to be a digital leader?
The internet is full of nonsense content. The internet is in desperate need of those who stand up against bullies, create inspiring content and share uplifting stories. Is your child equipped to make the digital world a better place?
If you answer “no” to any of these questions, then your child is not ready for the massive responsibility of having a connected device. As a parent, you can teach your child these skills. It might take time, but it is the right and worthwhile thing to do.
Dr. Nura Arabi is a physical education teacher in Abu Dhabi with a health promotion background who advocates for parents and children to have a healthier lifestyle. Her current research is about E-learning and child psychology. Through radio appearances, her profession and writing, she wants to change the world of children’s health one healthy tip at a time.