Basic Lessons to Teach Children about Smartphone Etiquette

Teenaged girl wearing headphones smiles at phone while texting.

From infancy through childhood, children are observing and learning much from their parents about how to communicate their needs and share their feelings with others. Yet more and more, children are accessing technology at an early age than their parents ever did.

With the advent of mobile phones then smartphone technology, it's never been so easy for people to stay connected. This technology allows us to reach out to the ones we love from any distance as well as connects us to a wealth of information via the internet.

Children today are more comfortable than ever with digital communication. In 2017, Nielsen reported that in a survey of over 4,000 parents, 45% stated that their children had a smartphone with a service plan between ages 10-12.

Access to smartphones like these is certainly not all negative. Many parents may decide to give their child a mobile phone or smartphone for reasons related to safety and being able to know where their child is at all times. Some teachers may even incorporate smartphone usage in lessons by way of educational apps. However, children with so much access to the technology available from their devices may overuse it or get into things they should not be seeing.

Children new to smartphones won't readily understand where to draw the line in using their devices without someone showing them first. As such, it's up to parents to help their children understand basic smartphone etiquette and encourage healthy usage of these devices.

Here are some basic lessons for parents to consider when teaching their children about smartphone etiquette.

Develop attentiveness 

It's easy for any person—adult or child—to get sucked into whatever it is they're focused on in the moment. Yet when one is too focused on what's going on within their smartphone rather than on what's happening directly around them, it can be problematic. Feeling ignored by someone who is too deeply focused on scrolling through their social media feed or texting someone else while you're trying to have a discussion can be hurtful. 

As a parent, help your child develop attentive listening skills and an awareness of what's going on around them. This means that if they are on their smartphone but you or someone else needs to interrupt that usage to ask a question or something else, encourage your child to look away from their phone and attend to the matter directly in front of them. 

Require smartphone breaks

Along with being attentive to the real live activity going on around them, it's essential that children understand the importance of taking breaks from their smartphones. Taking a healthy amount of time away from the virtual world to reconnect with the real world is healthy on many levels, both physical and emotional.

Children may not always be able to avoid screen time, such as during lessons at school that require some amount of it. However, that time plus any additional time spent in front of smartphones and other screens can impact their lives in many ways. The negative effects of too much screen time can include sleep problems, weight gain, and even headaches and eye problems.

An easy way to combat these issues is to require smartphone breaks at specific times such as the dinner table, in the car, in the bedroom, or when spending time doing family activities. If children know early on what the expected behaviour is during these times, they may be more apt to comply.

Encourage polite texting

The art of written communication has morphed over the years, transforming from long, handwritten notes to abbreviated texts full of emojis. Sending a thumbs-up emoji in place of saying 'thank you' might be appropriate at times, but it's not the best move in every situation.

Help your child develop polite texting skills by helping them understand the art of conversing in written form. Texts aren't the same as long-form emails, but you can still use polite etiquette even when sending a short message. For example, emoji usage might not be right for every text message conversation, so spelling out phrases like 'please', 'thank you', and 'I'm sorry' are important habits to practice. 

Use parental controls

Parental controls for smartphones provide a way for parents to monitor what their children are doing on their devices and restrict their access to material that isn't suitable for them to be viewing. 

Both iPhone and Android devices offer built-in parental control settings to assist with content and privacy restrictions. Additionally, there are other apps that offer additional parental controls like Norton Family Premier and FamilyTime. Although these apps themselves might not teach your child a direct lesson, they will provide a framework for them to use their smartphones in a safer, healthier manner.

Teaching your children basic lessons about smartphone etiquette is a process that will take time and won't be without setbacks. And don't forget: children learn a lot from observing those closest to them. Be a model of healthy smartphone etiquette for them to follow.