The Right Age for Your Child’s First Smartphone

We often get questions related to how old a child “should” be when he or she gets his or her own smartphone, tablet or other personal electronic device. Our answer is almost always, “It depends” – it depends on the maturity of the child, what she needs it for and a host of other factors.

There is new data out of the UK that shows that, nor surprisingly, the average age for kids getting their first device is getting younger. UK regulator Ofcom publishes regular surveys about a host of digital parenting issues, and a look at the 2016 data compared to 2015 paints the device ownership picture pretty well.

iphone-2016In 2016:

  • 41% of kids aged 5 – 15 own their own smartphone, vs. 35% in 2015
  • The most dramatic increase was among 8 – 11 year olds, with a third more kids getting their own smartphone. 32% own their own device vs. 24% on 2015
  • In the 12 – 15 year old group, numbers rose to 79% in 2016 vs. 69% on 2015

So, if your child is 10 – 12 years old, it may be almost true when he says, “All of my friends have a phone”.

Tablet ownership is skewing younger as well:

  • 44% of kids aged 5 – 15 own their own tablet, up from 40% in 2015
  • Toddlers are getting in the game as well, with 16% of 3 – 4 year olds having their own tablet
  • 32% of 5 – 7 year olds own their own tablet
  • 49% of 8 – 15 year olds own their own tablet

The ownership trends are clear – up to the age of 10, kids are more likely to own a tablet. After age 10, tablet ownership declines, and smartphone ownership rises quickly.

If your child is aged 8 – 12, how do you decide whether she is ready for her first smartphone? Here are some of the questions that you might want to ask yourself:

  • Is your child mature enough to put it the device when appropriate?
  • Does she need a phone so that you can keep in touch?
  • Is your child able to identify potential risks when she sees them?
  • Are you ready to have tough conversations with her in advance, about sexting, cyberbullying and predator risk?
  • Is she willing to turn to you for guidance if she finds herself in an uncertain situation?
  • Are you willing to have a set of rules in place, and enforce them?

Handing over a smartphone to a child, knowing that much of the use will be unsupervised, is a tough decision, but one that every parent is forced to make at some point. If you’ve had a difficult or encouraging experience in your household, feel free to leave a comment below.

 

If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

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Google’s New App Will Help You Safely Track Your Kids

Google, like most companies that profit from online advertising, make it their business to know everything possible about what you’re doing online, and when possible offline. For parents who value knowing the whereabouts of our kids, Google may be turning this into a benefit.

google-trusted-contactsThis week Google is launching Trusted Contacts, an Android app designed to allow your closest family members to quickly access information about your whereabouts and online activity. There’s no word as yet about whether an iOS version s forthcoming, or when.

If you’re a parent giving your child his or her first phone, this is something we’re likely to recommend after we’ve had chance to see how it works in the real world.

After downloading the free app, the parent or child can log in using the child’s Gmail credentials and activate the location history in Google Maps – a log of all the places you’ve been with your phone GPS turned on. Note: this is one reservation we have about the app. Kids and teens will need to be careful to have location turned on for this app, but should keep it off for most others with some exceptions (i.e. Google Maps is okay, but Facebook checkins can be an unnecessary risk).

After parent and child have both turned on and logged into the app, a parent can:

  • See a log of the places his child has been
  • Request the precise location of the child at any time
  • See the phone’s activity status to make sure that it is on and connected

Additionally, kids using the app can send a message to a parent any time they are lost or feel unsafe. Parents responding will have the luxury of knowing exactly where the distressed child is.

With kids getting smartphones earlier and earlier, this app could be a big help in a number of situations. If a parent is unsure whether that kid made it to the after school event, or on a family trip to the zoo when one child wanders off, this is a great solution.

Google already collects a ton on information about all of its users – many would argue too much information. That they’re now offering a free product principally promoting user safety is a very good thing.

 

 

If your teen or tween is active online and you are having trouble keeping up, we can help. We respect your kids’ privacy and give you the tools you need to be a better digital parent. The ThirdParent initial audit is now FREE (previously a $49 value). Ongoing monitoring is $15 per month and you can cancel at any time. Click here to sign up today!

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

 

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Interview with Dr. Adam Pletter of iParent101

We had the pleasure a couple of weeks back of meeting Dr. Adam Pletter (via Twitter). Dr. Pletter, Psy.D is a licensed clinical psychologist from Bethesda Maryland who specializes in the treatment of children, adolescents, and young adults. The issues he sees frequently cross over into the area of digital parenting, a topic very close to our hearts.

Dr. Adam PletterDr. Pletter is also the founder and chief knowledge merchant at iParent101, an educational resource for parents and families focused on improving digital parenting and making sure kids and teens are using technology, the internet and social media safely and responsibly.

We had a long conversation with Dr. Pletter on Friday and wanted to share his thoughts, philosophy and some of his experiences. Questions and answers are paraphrased since we didn’t record the conversation. All errors are ours.

Q: What is the philosophy behind iParent 101?

Dr. Pletter: Whether they believe it or not, most parents are not digital natives, and are afraid of the technology that their kids are using. They’d like to think that they understand enough to guide good digital behavior but they don’t, generally. Kids tend to not think through what they’re doing online before they do it, often with adverse consequences.

We want parents to be equipped to help kids avoid those negative consequences.

Q: How do you help parents be better at the digital thing?

Dr. Pletter: First, I try to help parents understand the risks around child and teen use of electronic devices, the internet and social media. Second, we focus on the safeguards and resources built into the kids’ devices – mostly but not exclusively their smartphones.

We impress upon parents that smartphones are adult devices. In the same way that parents wouldn’t hand a teen car keys before teaching them how to drive safely, parents should grant a level of internet access that is age appropriate. What they are allowed to do online should evolve over time, at a pace that parents are comfortable with. Most of this can be done with the parental controls built into today’s smartphones.

Q: What are parents most worried about? What question do you get the most?

Dr. Pletter: Pretty simply it’s, “How do I keep my kids safe?” Safe from strangers, safe from places online that have adult content that they shouldn’t be seeing.

iParent101Q: Do you see a lot of cyberbullying?

Dr. Pletter: It is problem, particularly with group messaging. Kids are getting teased, and some are getting excluded. The FOMO is real, and kids are getting left out and seeing it online as it happens. If kids are posting pictures of a party on Instagram, that could be very hurtful for the kids who weren’t invited.

Q: What age do you recommend for the first smartphone or internet access?

Dr. Pletter: For the smartphone, I don’t like to see it happen before 11 or 12. With younger kids, if parents need to keep in touch, a flip phone will suffice. For internet access in general, it depends on the level of maturity that your child is demonstrating – common sense, good judgment and communication skills.

Q: Where do you see the most problems?

Dr. Pletter: It’s definitely the messaging apps. Parents are familiar with texting, but when it’s done via messaging app, parents often aren’t aware that it is happening at all.

Q: Is pornography an issue that you come across at all?

Dr. Pletter: I think that parents aren’t talking to kids about pornography enough because they don’t understand how readily available it is – often just a couple of clicks away and accessible via computer, tablet or phone. Pornography is so easy to find that kids think it’s perfectly okay to be looking at it.

Q: Do you recommend taking away the phone if there’s a problem?

Dr. Pletter: No, I’m not a fan of consequences without a learning experience. If all you’ve done is take away the device, you haven’t changed the behavior that caused the problem.

Q: How do you recommend that parents get up to speed?

Dr. Pletter: YouTube is a great example. There is plenty of educational and entertaining content for kids of all ages, and yet there is lots of adult content as well. Young kids shouldn’t be turned loose on YouTube without some parental oversight. The good news is that the parental safeguards on YouTube are pretty robust, but they’re easy to understand, implement and change over time as your child grows up. Understanding and managing YouTube controls is pretty good shorthand for controlling access on other devices and across the web.

Q: Any final thoughts?

Dr. Pletter: There is no way around the fact that by giving a child a smartphone, parents are agreeing to take on a whole new level of parenting responsibility. It takes some work, but it can be done well. Doing nothing and hoping for the best isn’t a great option, but that’s what many parents find themselves doing.

 

To read more about Dr. Pletter or to inquire about a seminar in your area, you can click here.

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Facebook Tip Jar Could Be Bad News for Teens

Facebook logoHere’s a scenario that can’t happen in real life. Yet.

  1. Cute teen posts selfie to Facebook
  2. Random Facebook user clicks a button and send that teen $10
  3. Teen is pleased to have $10
  4. Random Facebook user sends teen a friend request
  5. ????

There are a few ways for an individual to make money on Facebook. The most obvious is selling stuff. Others exist but they’re pretty difficult to put into action.

A very good article at The Verge yesterday highlights a new development that could spell trouble for some young users – Facebook is considering more monetization options, including a “Tip Jar”.

It turns out the some users (verified users, i.e. having the blue check mark as a confirmed public figure) were sent a survey about how they use Facebook, and included was a section asking them about options to earn money from the platform.

Facebook tip jar
Source: The Verge

Options (pictured at right) include a tip jar, branded content, sponsor marketplace (sponsors pay users to post content), a donate button (to a cause favored by the author), call to action button (buy this thing I just posted on FB now), and revenue sharing of Facebook ads.

There are lots of journalists, authors, fan fiction writers and artists putting compelling content on Facebook, and we don’t see a problem with them being able to share in the riches. In fact, it should have happened by now.

We do think for teen users (and even younger users who skirt the age guidelines to join Facebook), a tip jar could be a problem in the way that kids who want to be YouTube famous encounter problems. Exposure to predators and being asked by viewers to perform in suggestive videos are things that can and do happen on YouTube. Young users may lack the judgment necessary to avoid dangerous situations.

Imagine a young Facebook user who is making money by posting photos. What is to keep a “customer” for asking for more pictures, or different pictures, perhaps by private message?

Since the survey appears to have been sent to verified users only, there’s no word if a monetization plan would be extended to average, or average younger users. We hope it won’t be.

We’re tempted to say that we would be okay with this if it were only offered to users 18 or older, but that won’t work either. As good as Facebook is at enforcing its community guidelines, it has no way of keeping under-13 users from joining, and has no way of knowing if a user is 19 or 14.

Much like Facebook’s rumored “dislike” button went in a very different direction, this might never see the light of day. We say no to the tip jar.

 

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Is Tumblr Safe For 12-Year Olds? 13? 14?

Good news – your child has a creative side. And she’s online a lot. That might mean she has a Tumblr account for her personal blog. Is that bad news? That depends.

Tumblr official logo Tumblr, the blogging social network now owned Yahoo since 2013, is probably the easiest way to set up a blog, and because of that it now has over 550 million users. The search function and the fact that most users employ hashtags also make it easy for others to find your blog. If your teen or tween is using it, there are some things you should know.

Age limit – Like most social networks, Tumblr has an age limit of 13. That age limit is (not really) enforced by asking a user their age at sign up, so it’s up to parents to know whether under-13s are using the service – and if they’re okay with it.

All accounts are public – Each user’s main Tumblr account is public, and there is no way to change that. Users can set up a secondary, private account, but in practice nobody does that, for privacy reasons at least. Everything your child posts will be available for all to see.

Porn – Nudity and sexual content, including extreme sexual content, is allowed on Tumblr. If you’re not sure your child is old enough to avoid that content, or don’t want her running into it accidentally, you should not allow her to use Tumblr.

Other adult content – While some things are prohibited on Tumblr, such as malicious speech, posts depicting harm to minors or gore, many other types of adult content is permitted. Drugs, alcohol, racism and other hate speech seem to easily skirt these guidelines, or are entirely permissible.
Tumblr thinspo warning
Self harm – There are very active communities on Tumblr that support users who are into self harm, i.e. eating disorders or cutting. For example, if you search Tumblr for “thinspo”, short for “thin inspiration”, you will see the warning posted at right. If you click past the warning, you’ll see hundreds of images and posts presumably put up by women and girls who are desperate to be unhealthily thin. We’re all for people seeking help online if they’re in need of it, but the tone of many of these loose groups is to support and sustain the disorders themselves rather than helping the user pursue more healthy habits.

Cyberbullying – Since all posts are public, cyberbullying is not at all uncommon. If your child is being cyberbullied, she can block the other user.

Tumblr itself isn’t the problem, as adult content and cyberbullying are found on other social sites as well. We encourage parents to:

  • Know whether your child is using Tumblr
  • Make an educated decision about whether you’re okay with that
  • Have a conversation about what she is posting and what kinds of people, groups and content she is interacting with

The vast majority of Tumblr users post responsibly. Make sure that your teen or tween, if she is using Tumblr, is one of them.

 

 

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Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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Your Child’s First Phone or iPod

We’ve given a lot of thought to the age at which parents should consider giving a child their first connected device – think iPod, tablet, phone or gaming console. A fully functioning computer is usually not the first device that a child can call her own.

iphone-2016We’ll admit that one of our primary considerations in evaluating the topic has been safety, specifically predator risk and exposure to cyberbullying. Others include managing time spent online and controlling access to age-inappropriate content and other users.

An unfortunate thing happened in our family over the holidays that opened my eyes to another important consideration, and I thought I’d share.

My daughter, we’ll call her Kate, is 8 years old and until Christmas, she was without her own personal device, although there were phones and tablets around the house that she had highly supervised access to from time to time. Around Christmas, one of my teenage boys was due for a phone upgrade, but his older model iPhone 5C was still functional. We decided to transfer his phone contract to his new phone and give the old phone to Kate to use, as she would an iPod – no phone capability, Wi-Fi only. We carefully monitor which apps, games, videos and websites she can access, which music she can listen to and above all who can contact her. Her “phone” doesn’t make the trip into her bedroom or to school. For the most part it has gone smoothly.

My brother and family, who live about 8 hours away, were at our house for a few days over New Year’s. They have a daughter, we’ll call her Mary, who is 12 and has her own phone. Over the course of the visit, despite the fact that they only see each other about once a year, Kate and Mary became fast friends.

For a couple of weeks after the visit ended Kate and Mary were in contact via text or Facetime daily, and were getting along great. Then the following happened:

While they were in the middle of a Facetime conversation, Kate’s phone battery died, with no charger nearby. When they were able to reconnect later, the conversation went something like this:

Mary: You hung up on me. (a reasonable-ish conclusion, though not the case)

Kate: No I didn’t. My phone died. You’re a liar. (unbeknownst to me, in Kate’s 8-year old mind a liar is anyone who says something that’s not true, regardless of intent)

Mary: You called me a liar. I’m never talking to you again.

**Click**

That was almost a month ago, and despite the fact that we parents have talked to each of our respective daughters, they haven’t spoken since. We’re sure the girls will patch things up, but there were a couple of important lessons in here, for us at least.

  • Online communication can be more nuanced and difficult to navigate than face-to-face conversations. Pre teens might not be ready.
  • Pre teens’ conflict resolution skills can be poorly developed or nonexistent.

We as parents dropped the ball here. In addition to focusing on who Kate can talk to online, we should have focused on how she should be communicating. Perhaps some role-playing would have helped. Maybe we should have had her nearby when she was chatting with her cousin. Maybe she’s too young to text anyone except mom and dad.

In any case, the message is that once you’ve decided that your child is old enough, and emotionally mature enough, to own a device and more unsupervised communications, the job hasn’t ended. It is just getting started.

 

 

 

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The 6 Worst Sites and Apps for Tween Cyberbullying

Fact: The average tween gets a cell phone by the time she’s 12-years old. The means that half of kids younger than 12 have a phone, and most of the time it’s a smartphone with internet access

Fact: The age limit for most social media networks and apps is 13-years old

Fact: Most parents of tweens find it difficult or impossible to monitor everything that their kids are doing online, especially on their phones

If your tween has a phone, one of the things you are probably concerned with is cyberbullying. We wrote a couple of years ago about which networks and apps are the worst for cyberbullying, but times changes so we thought we’d take another look, this time from a tween parenting perspective.

Based on our research and what we see day in and day out, the worst sites for tween cyberbullying are:

ask-fm-logoAsk.fm – The question and answer site has taken strides this year to be a safer space for young users, but in our opinion it has a long way to go. The user demographic skews very young, and the fact that users can ask questions anonymously means that harsh words are thrown around on a regular basis. Users can opt out of accepting anonymous questions, but since that cuts down on interaction, most kids do not opt out from what we’ve seen.

Read more: Two Weeks in the Life of a 13-Year Old Girl on Ask.fm

instagram-sq-logoInstagram – A wonderful app for posting or messaging pictures, Instagram is also a self-esteem wrecker for some kids. Many of the pics that kids post are selfies, and either to get a laugh or out of sheer meanness, other kids will often voice very harsh opinions. In some ways the kids are asking for it (not to blame the victim); participating in #HotOrNot or #RateMe contests is a great way to attract criticism.

yik-yak-logoYik Yak – The anonymous, location-based app claims that it is intended for college kids and older users only, and has taken steps to have access blocked for at least some high schools, but practically speaking the blocks don’t work. On Yik Yak, you’ll find plenty of cyberbullying, as well as teacher bashing and general bad behavior. In addition, users can now post pictures, which ups the ante significantly.

twitter-logoTwitter – We see lots of under-13s on Twitter, but not many of them are very active. For those who are, parents should be aware that any post could be met with vocal dissent, which can and does easily devolve into cyberbullying. Twitter is a great platform for people with a lot to say, and bullies are some of the most vocal.

4chan and 8chan – These anonymous, no holds barred message boards are really no place for kids under 13. Reasonable discourse is almost nonexistent, and anyone posting is a potential target.

Reddit – While the content on Reddit is often high quality, the interactions can be just the opposite. Reddit’s content is divided into silos called subreddits based on users’ interests, and people frequenting those subreddits often have very strong opinions and aren’t shy about sharing them. Unless your tween is very thick skinned and knows how to skirt the adult content, we recommend staying off Reddit.

In general, we don’t recommend ignoring the age limits for social media. Young, undeveloped minds need some protection from harsh online elements, and waiting until they’re more mature is one way to achieve that. If younger kids are venturing onto social media, particularly the platforms above, parents need to be extra vigilant.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

Work at a high school or college? We have custom solutions for monitoring dangerous or inappropriate activity. Learn more.

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Cell Phones and 6-Year Olds. Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Every parent these days is required to decide when their children are old enough to have a cell phone. Consider this headline from ABC News:

Survey discovers 6-years-old is the average age of kids when they first receive a cell phone

When I saw that headline, it struck me as wrong. Not only wrong for a 6-year old to have a cell phone, but also wrong that over half of 6-year olds already have them. I’m the parent of three, including a 7-year old. I’ve seen a lot of kids in my time, including lately. I spend a lot of time studying kids and technology.

There’s no way the average 7-year old in the U.S. has a cell phone. 10 or 11, maybe, but not 7. I decided to dig in.

6-yr-old-cell-phoneAt least a dozen articles were written in early April (I read many of them) focusing on the finding that 53% of U.S. kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. The statistic was the teaser from a study by Vouchercloud, a “leading coupon brand”. I’m not going to link to their site here, but I went to Vouchercloud’s site and tried to find a copy of the complete survey, or at least a detailed blog post. I found nothing.

The outlets that covered the survey included ABC, Fox and Yahoo as well as a bunch of parenting bloggers and sites. All the articles I saw linked back to Vouchercloud’s website.

Through one of the writers who had covered the survey, I found that she got wind of it via a press release from Vouchercloud’s PR firm, UK-based 10 Yetis. I reached out to an individual at 10 Yetis and asked for a copy of the survey results. What she sent me was a copy of the press release announcing the survey, dated May 2014. 11 months ago.

According to the press release, Vouchercloud surveyed 2,290 U.S. parents (big sample size!) with kids between 11 and 16. The press release contained 5 links to Vouchercloud’s site, but no link to an actual set of survey results.

Again, I reached out to the PR firm and asked for the full survey results. In fact, I wrote the following:

“I thought I’d reach out one more time and ask for a copy of that study, or a link to it.

I don’t think there’s any way that 53% of American kids have a cell phone by their 7th birthday. I suspect that statistic, and perhaps the whole survey was made up.”

Not surprisingly, to me anyway, I haven’t heard back from them. I don’t expect to.

Lots of people ran with the story, taking the survey at face value. I feel for the mommy bloggers who are on the hunt for relevant content for their audience. Professional journalists who made it a story should have known better.

If parents who read one of the stories came away thinking that it’s normal for a 7-year old to have a phone, or not normal that their 7-year old doesn’t have one, that’s a bad thing.

We’ll change our tune is we see a copy of an actual survey, but we don’t expect that to happen.

As parents, we’re in the business of thinking critically and deciding what’s best for our children. Maybe no parents took these articles to heart, but digital parenting is a difficult enough task without dubious data floating around.

 

 

 

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YouTube Kids Launches Today

Google has a fundamental problem with kids, or an opportunity depending on how you look at it. At the problem’s center is the fact that in order for Google to effectively serve ads to users of its product, the more information it has on that user, the better. Better ads men that advertisers on balance will pay more for those ads, as they are reaching a highly targeted audience.

YouTube-logoGoogle, however, can’t legally collect personal information from kids under 13 without their parents’ consent, as dictated by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Parental consent is a messy thing – parents can and do say no – which means that some would-be users of your product won’t be using it.

The workaround for Google to date has been a very inelegant game of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Everyone knows that kids under 13 use YouTube, Google’s video hosting property. We’d guess that it’s not only the most widely used social network by the under 13 crowd, it’s probably the most widely used web property, period. Google has effectively gotten around COPPA by either not asking for user’s age (you can watch YouTube videos without having a YouTube account), or by not verifying the age when a user opens an account.

We aren’t taking Google alone to task here; only a small number of websites and social networks have an effective means for verifying the age of users. The industry standard is for users to be whatever age they happen to say at signup. If that sounds like a flawed system, it is.

Google is partially solving the problem today by launching YouTube Kids, a free under-13 version of YouTube, and has communicated to the press that both the video content and the ads will be age-appropriate.

If Google does a good job screening which videos are in fact safe for kids, and has a way of keeping the comment section clean, it will indeed by a good, safer option for kids. Some early reports claim that comments won’t be allowed. We checked the Google Play store and YouTube Kids is not available as of this writing.

We say “partial” solution because after the launch of YouTube Kids (today for Android phones and tablets, in the near future for iOS), adult YouTube will still be thriving, and as easy for kids to use as ever.

Lots more work to do in this area.

 

 

Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring child and teen internet activity.

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