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Beyond Screen Time Limits

Get insights, tips and ideas straight from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine

When is the right time to give a child a cell phone?

Jan 11, 2021

Parents commonly struggle over the decision to give their child a smartphone, and for good reason. With a phone comes wide access to the internet, social media, apps, games, and communication with friends. For the first time, your child will have these capabilities in their pocket, without you watching over and taking the screen away if it goes awry. It’s easy for kids to get into unhealthy screen time patterns once they have more access and less supervision. That’s why it’s so important to have a plan to ensure your child learns to be safe and responsible with their phone and a set of criteria for deciding if your child is ready

Are YOU ready for your child to have a phone?

Remember, once your child gets used to the freedom and opportunities that come with their own device, it is very hard to dial it back. For this reason, it’s important to set up a screen time plan effectively from the start.  

  • Are you clear on your rules? Are there any apps that are off-limits? Can they have a social media account? Where will their phone be kept at night, and at what time will it be unavailable to use? 
  • How will you be sure your child’s screen time is kept in balance with other life activities? Will you be setting a time limit or scheduling specific screen times? What will happen if phone use interferes with their schoolwork getting done?
  • Are you clear on family screen-free times? Can they use phones during family outings, car rides, when friends come over?
  • How will you know whether your child is following the rules? How will you know whether your child is using apps that are off-limits? How will you know if they are messaging and posting in ways that could harm them or other kids? Is your child clear on how you will be monitoring their activity? 
  • What are the logistics of getting and maintaining a phone? Who will buy the phone? Who will pay the monthly bill? What happens if the phone is lost or damaged?

Is your child ready for a smartphone?

Once you are clear about your rules, step back, and assess if your child is ready for a smartphone. When I ask parents how they will decide when to give their child a smartphone, I hear a wide range of answers: “When they are 13”, “When they get an A in math”, “I’ll wait as long as I can!”. I get it. Parents are confused and are taking their best guess at how to set this up. They have been missing a clear way to assess if their child is ready for a device because no one has defined what a child needs to be able to do in order to manage their device responsibly and safely.  

Below is a set of key questions that will help you determine whether your child is ready for a phone based on their readiness to manage their device in a healthy way:

  • Is your child self-aware? Can they recognize when screen time is negatively affecting them? Can they take a break or get off if they are getting harmed emotionally or physically by their time online.
  • Can your child self-regulate? Do they log off screen time without a battle? Are they balancing their online lives with their offline lives?
  • Does your child understand how the online world works? Do they know that much of what they see on the internet isn’t true? Can they determine what people or information seem dubious?
  • Will your child follow the rules you lay out? Will they respect limits in terms of what apps they can access, when & where to dock phones at night, etc?  Are they clear how you will be monitoring their online activities (at least at first)?
  • Does your child know how to keep themselves and others safe online? Think cyberbullying, predators, personal information, etc
  • Can your child stick to a well-rounded routine? Will they keep screen time from affecting a healthy routine of sleep, meals, getting homework done, maintaining offline activities, etc.?

Getting a smartphone is a big responsibility - you want to make sure you and your child are prepared for this big step. If you need some extra help setting this up effectively and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered!

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents how to prepare their children for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


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