Clare Rowe, Educational & Developmental Psychologist

There is no right age to give your child their first phone, the decision is yours to make. When making the decision, weigh up the benefits and potential risks.

Do you feel your child is responsible enough to look after a device, to understand the potential risks involved in having access to the internet or social media? And will they respect boundaries you establish for phone usage, especially when away from home?

New research from HMD Global, the home of Nokia phones, recently found that 39.5% of Australian parents take away their device or internet privileges as punishment.

While some parents might think it best to restrict their child from accessing a mobile phone altogether, we need to be realistic about the world our children are living in and how it differs from when we grew up.

Mobile phones have become a common tool for staying in touch, monitoring the whereabouts of our children as well as offering connectivity between our children and their peers.

With phones being so commonplace for Australian children taking away their ability to interact could create feelings of social isolation which can be harmful.

But of course mobile phones aren’t without risk – digital addiction, poor sleep hygiene, online bullying and privacy hacks are just some of the dangers I hear about from parents.

So, how do we keep our kids safe and encourage good digital wellbeing? The following tips may help.

Many Aussie parents admit to taking away a child’s device or internet privileges as punishment.

Set expectations

It might sound extreme, but drawing up a contract between you and your child is an effective way to set expectations, rules and responsibilities.

It’s much harder to establish boundaries once the phone is in their hot little hands! Use the contract as a way of outlining where and when they can use the phone, who they can contact and what type of content they can access.

It allows you to have an open and honest conversation with your child about healthy phone usage, while also clearly communicating what the consequences will be if any agreed upon rules are broken. Set the expectation that you will be able to check in on their usage.

Review the contract together periodically, as circumstances and challenges may change.

Choosing the right device

Devices with fewer bells and whistles can make boundary-setting with your children easier. For younger first-time users like primary school kids, consider a bare-bones phone, like the Nokia 2720 Flip, as they are affordable and have the apps you need to stay in touch with your child without purchasing a fully-fledged smartphone.

Tweens on the other hand may be after a more fuller-featured smartphone. It’s a risky investment for something that, while in the hands of a child, is likely to get lost or thrown into the wash or dropped on the ground. A good compromise is giving your child a device like the Nokia 3.4 which costs less than $300.

When shopping for a mobile, your tween may be after smartphone with loads of features and apps.

Set limits

It is important for kids to understand there is a time and place for phone use by drawing firm lines for phone-free times such as during school, family meals, bed time and any other time where your child doesn’t need distractions.

According to recent research, more than half of Australian parents (55%) limit the time of day or the length of time their children can access a device. It’s great that so many parents are already taking advantage of tools such as Google’s Family Link to set limits for their children.

Remember, you need to lead by example though – our kids look to us and our behaviour. If your child isn’t allowed their phone at the dinner table, consider leaving yours in another room too.

Consider setting time limits for phone usage.

Keep them safe

Start by identifying specific locations for online use within the home, such as a shared family area.

Sit down with your child to talk about being careful when accepting connectivity requests, browsing the Internet, or downloading content. M

ake sure their device is secure by setting passcodes and updating the software when prompted. In addition, take advantage of Family Link, which can help restrict access to certain applications including camera usage.