Setting Up Your Child’s Device? Avoid THESE Mistakes at All Costs.

Before taking the plunge, consider these practical matters and safety concerns.

Aliza Vigderman, Senior Editor, Industry Analyst

Setting up your child's first device
A majority of kids have their own phone by the time they are 131. Maybe you are a parent considering whether the time is right to buy a phone for your child. Or maybe you recently purchased a phone or handed one down to your son or daughter.

In either case, the boundaries that you set in the beginning set the stage for your child’s screen usage in the future. While a balanced conversation about expectations, limits, and dangers regarding screen-use will go a long way, avoiding a few common mistakes when setting up the phone will also help.

Here are common mistakes to avoid as your child goes digital.

Pro Tip: For solutions on shielding your children from online danger, take a look at our comprehensive Parents’ Guide to Protecting Their Kids Online. It covers everything from cyberbullying to online shopping to streaming games and music.

Mistake No. 1: Handing over the smartphone before establishing that you are the owner and they are the borrower

If you have decided that your child is mature enough to carry their own smartphone, gift it to them with glee, but first, establish some ground rules. This begins with a conversation about what the phone costs each month and reminding them that you are the one paying for it. In other words, they may be using this phone, but you still own it and can make decisions about its use.

It is also important to emphasize your love and concern: as a parent you need to ensure your child’s safety in regards to device use. This means that you will be monitoring their use and the time spent on it.

Mistake No. 2: Sharing one account or passcode

With your child’s first phone, you will need to begin by setting up an account if they don’t already have one. It might be tempting to just share your Google account or Apple ID with the mistaken belief that it will give you more control. However, there are other ways to put controls in place, which we will share later in the article.

Other parents sometimes use the same ID for convenience, but taking the time to set up your child’s own account will save you a lot of hassle. For example, if you share an Apple ID, you will end up receiving your child’s texts and they will be receiving yours. Imagine a business meeting during which your phone pings continuously with texts from your daughters’ friends discussing who got what on their algebra test. Even worse, your daughter will have access to your texts and photos.

Passcodes to unlock a smartphone should also be individual. Set up a passcode with your child present, ensuring that they are picking a strong code but one that is also easy to remember. Then, add it to your password manager or write it down and put it in a safe place where you can easily access it. For his protection, remind them not to share it, and be clear from the beginning that the passcode is not to be changed.

If you are worried about either of you forgetting the passcode, you can also set up Face ID with one alternate or Touch ID with up to five additional fingerprints.

Did You Know: A password manager safely stores all of your passwords so that you don’t need to remember all of them — you just need to remember the master password. It is easy to use and eliminates the need to use the same password for multiple accounts, which is an unsafe practice.

Mistake No. 3: Forgetting to buy a phone case or screen protector

This might seem trivial, but two in five smartphone owners have lost, damaged or had their mobile phone stolen, according to one survey. (The numbers are probably even higher with kids!) Of those who have damaged their phones, 37 percent have scratched the screen, 29 percent have spilled a drink on it, 29 percent have dropped it down a flight of stairs, and 20 percent have dropped it in the toilet2.

Granted, a phone case or screen protector probably won’t protect a phone dropped in the toilet, but it can protect against a scratched screen. And a well-made phone case will absorb the impact from a dropped phone when Junior is climbing a tree, riding his bike, or playing ball. In some situations, a rubber case might also prevent him from dropping it in the first place.

Mistake No. 4: Neglecting to access and set parental controls

Cell phone use among children is skewing younger. The good news is that plenty of digital tools are available to limit and monitor usage. Family sharing is available with most iPhones, iPods and iPads. It allows you and up to five family members to share services like iTunes or iCloud storage. It also enables you to set limits and monitor usage3.

Another helpful tool is Family Link, a Google app that can be used with both Androids and iOS. With this app, parents can add filters to internet searches, set screen time limits, and more4. The following describes several controls that you can set using these digital tools.

Location detection

Let’s face it — kids lose stuff. Walk into any school office and you will see a lost-and-found box overflowing with the detritus of childhood. Use either of the tools mentioned above to locate your child’s lost device. At some point, these tools may also help you locate … your children. Maybe your tween rode her bike to meet a friend. A quick look at your phone will tell you that she made it safely to her destination and give you peace of mind. It can prove handy with the teen who has his driver’s license, too.

Purchase approval

Ask to Buy is a feature that is offered with Family Sharing. When it is activated, kids need to get permission to buy anything, download free apps, or sign up for subscriptions. This feature is automatically activated for children under 13. With Family Link, you can also manage what your child can browse, purchase or download from the Google Play Store.

Content restriction

Several settings enable you to access parental controls and customize them to fit your family situation. You can block or limit specific apps or music with explicit content and restrict movies and TV shows with specific ratings. You can also filter website content and add specific websites to an approved or blocked list. You enjoy watching “Breaking Bad,” but don’t want your 12-year-old to see it? Add it to your blocked list.

Content monitoring

In addition to restricting the games and videos that you know about, you may want to keep an eye on what your child is viewing that you don’t know about. You can view how much time your child spends on particular apps or websites or the time spent on the device overall. This will help you determine if restrictions need to be placed on the amount of time spent on the screen overall.

Time limits

Sometimes parents find themselves in a back and forth over how much time their child has been on their phone or when it’s time to take a break from it. Things become a bit more black-and- white when limits are set within the device. Time limits can be set for particular apps or for total screen time. You can also remotely lock your child’s device when it’s time to study or sleep.

FYI: Teens and tweens may perceive any of these tools as a means of controlling them or a lack of trust. Any parental controls will be best received by having a conversation with them before the measures are put into place. Ideally, initiate both the conversation and the parental controls prior to giving the phone to your son or daughter.

A Final Word

By now most of us are aware of the potential dangers that come with children and teens’ screen use. We can probably also agree that with proper use, this technology holds benefits. For parents, this includes the ability to keep tabs on our kids’ whereabouts and communicate with them quickly and in real time. For kids, it can provide a learning tool and a means of staying connected with friends. The trick is finding a good balance. With the right measures in place, your son or daughter can navigate the digital world while remaining safe, healthy, and happy.

Citations

1. Education Week. (2022). What Is the Right Age for a Kid to Get a Cellphone?.
https://www.edweek.org/leadership/what-is-the-right-age-for-a-kid-to-get-a-cellphone/2022/06

2. El Mundo Tech. (2012). T-Mobile/Kelton Research: “Smartphone Safety”.
https://www.elmundotech.com/2012/07/13/t-mobilekelton-research-smartphone-safety/

3. Apple. (2022). Family Sharing. Share your favorite things with your favorite people.
https://www.apple.com/family-sharing/

4. Google. (2022). Tips for getting your kid’s first phone.
https://families.google/articles/mobile-phones-for-children/