Are you doing enough to keep your kids safer on their phones?

When it comes to kids and phones, the discussion focused on what age was appropriate for them to get their first one. Now, it centers more on how to keep them safer using them, and for good reason. There are many risks involved with our youth using phones, and we must do things to help keep them safer. The good news is people can do numerous practical things to help keep their kids safer on their phones.

“Kids are going to have access to smartphones, even if it’s not theirs,” said Kirk Smalley, co-founder of Stand for the Silent. “We have to take steps to help ensure their safety. It’s the best way to allow them to use the technology and yet not fall victim to the risks.”

According to a March 2024 report by the Pew Research Center, today’s teens are more digitally connected than ever, and most have access to smartphones and social media. They report that 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone. Many kids are getting their first phones around the age of 12.

Regardless of when kids get their phones or start using someone else’s, it is essential to take safety measures. Parents need to be aware of a variety of safety concerns so they can help keep their kids safer. These include being mindful when using it, knowing about predators, mental health risks, and bullying issues. Phones can even cause problems with a child’s sleep quality if they are not taught good boundaries about using them.

Here are five practical tips for parents to help keep their kids safer using phones:

  • Determine acceptable options. Parents should determine what they want their kids to be able to do on the phone and then choose a device. The features are important and will determine how much the child can do. This includes determining acceptable types of devices, apps, and websites.
  • Consider helpful tools. Parents can use tools, such as Bark, to monitor their child’s online usage. The system has been designed to monitor email, texts, and more and conduct risk assessments. The parent will receive an alert if a risk is assessed, such as a predator interaction. Another good tool option to consider is Teen Safe.
  • Set expectations and rules. Discuss with the child what you feel is acceptable phone usage and what will happen if they don’t follow it. This goes for acceptable social media usage, taking photos, how long they can use it each day, and more.
  • Discuss cyberbullying and predators. This is a critical topic that parents need to discuss with their child. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reports of cyberbullying (bullying done online or on the phone) are highest in the middle, followed by high school. Add to that the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice reports that sexual predators are shifting their contacts with kids to cell phones. Kids need to know about each of these, what they look like, how to identify it, and what to do if they see it. They also need to know it’s not acceptable to participate in cyberbullying of any kind.
  • Set an example. Parents must set an example of how to use phones and all technology in a healthy manner. This includes not using it while driving a car, riding a bike, overusing it, etc. In the Pew Research report, nearly half of all the teens surveyed said that their parents are sometimes distracted by their phones when they try to talk to them. When parents establish healthy phone habits and boundaries, they are providing a good example for their kids.

“There are no absolute ways to keep our kids 100 percent safe on their phones,” adds Smalley. “But doing these things can go a long way toward helping to reduce risks and keep them safer. That’s a step in the right direction for every parent.”

Stand for the Silent offers online tools and information to help guide parents regarding all types of bullying, including cyberbulling. Parents can visit their site for information on their cyberbullying prevention program, warning signs, and more. The organizations offers a social bullets program to help parents with this issue and they provide a free downloadable handbook that provides key signals to recognize, guidelines for in-depth discussions, action suggestions, and more.

To get more information, visit the site at: standforthesilent.org/for-parents/stopcyberbullying/

Smalley and his wife, Laura, started the organization following their 11-year-old son, ending his own life due to bullying. They turned their pain and loss into a mission of helping others. He travels the country giving presentations about bullying to schools, providing bullying prevention, giving out scholarships, offering intervention strategies, and more. Those interested in getting involved can start a chapter of the group in their area, obtain a free K-2 bullying prevention curriculum  or cyberbullying handbook for parents, host a presentation at their school, intro of how all started video, and donate to help support the cause. To get more information, visit the site at: standforthesilent.org/.

About Stand for the Silent
Started in 2010, Stand for the Silent is an organization on a mission to help eliminate bullying nationwide. Kirk and Laura Smalley founded the group after their child took his own life due to bullying. They offer free resources for parents and educators and travel to schools to host presentations. They have been to over 6,025 schools and spoken with more than 4.15 million students. To get more information, visit the site at: standforthesilent.org/.