Smartphones are an amazing window into a world of countless marvels and dangers. Since kids have a lot to learn, giving a child a smartphone needs to be done with exquisite care. In this guest post, Scott Reddler (father of three and author of an infographic about smartphone monitoring) describes a common-sense approach to monitoring a child’s smartphone use. 

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When it comes to children and technology, parents need to be on their toes in order to advise, guide and supervise. One obvious example is the ubiquitous smartphone. If you’ve given your child a smartphone, you not only need to ensure that he or she understands what constitutes proper behavior, but also that you’ll need to monitor usage in order to keep your child safe.

What follows is a look at how to talk to your child about smartphone monitoring — so that he or she ultimately comes to see this as something that is necessary in these days and times.

Talk About It

Your first order of business is to have a frank two-way discussion with your child where you can explain digital safety while allowing him or her to share as well. By talking about social media addiction, cyberbullying, sexting, and talking to strangers, you can get your child to appreciate the potential dangers that lurk online. This is particularly important since it has been shown that the brains of children work differently than the brains of adults when it comes to decision making or problem-solving. In the case of the youth, what they do is often guided by emotion rather than by careful consideration. So be sure to explain the dos and don’ts — and remind your child that you own the smartphone and using it is a privilege rather than a right. This means that it can be taken away if it’s used inappropriately.

Address Privacy & Trust

You can bet that your child will complain that your decision to monitor is nothing more than an invasion of his or her privacy. You can respond by letting your child know that monitoring is not about distrusting him or her — it’s about protecting your child from the online predators in the world who prey on unsuspecting children. Let your child express whatever frustration or reservations he or she may have, but remember that you are the parent, so put your foot down and insist that monitoring is non-negotiable.

Create a Smartphone Contract

One way you can ensure that your child understands what is expected of him or her is to draft up a smartphone contract — and have your child sign it. This contract will lay out what your expectations are, and it should include guidelines as per screen-free time, expected performance in school, and the sorts of apps that you don’t want your child to access. As was mentioned before, you need to ensure that your child understands that the smartphone is a privilege that comes with certain expectations as per online behavior. Here’s an example of a cell phone agreement. Google parent child smartphone contracts for more.

How to Monitor

It’s one thing to inform your child that smartphone monitoring is a must, but it is quite another thing to actually conduct the monitoring. Fortunately, there are some relatively easy ways to keep on top of your child’s smartphone use in terms of time spent using it, sites visited, messaging dialogues engaged in, and more. In the interests of fairness, you should inform your child not only that you will be monitoring him or her, but also that you’ve installed an app to monitor usage. While there are plenty of such apps, here is a selection of parent control apps for you to mull over.

Yes, you definitely need to talk about monitoring if you’ve opted to give your child a smartphone. If you’re looking for a way to roll out a monitoring strategy, consider the aforementioned steps so that you can help keep your child safe online. You can use this infographic as a reminder.

More thoughts about teen smartphones and social networking.

More truth-telling about excessive screen time.

The context for this article is the subject of Chapter 6 of my new book: How Your Teen Can Grow a Smarter Brain.