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Smartphone Etiquette for Kids

By Dylan Roche

It’s an understatement to say phones have become an integral part of our lives. We use them for far more than simply calling people, and we carry them around on our person practically 24/7.

Phone use has even become so prevalent over the past decade that our rules of etiquette can’t quite seem to keep up. Think about it: You might know to keep your elbows off the table during a meal or to say, “Bless you,” when somebody sneezes, but what are the hard and fast rules of being polite with your smartphone?

Grownups Can Learn New Tricks

21st-century parents didn’t grow up with smartphones, so they can’t depend on the rules their parents set for them. How are they supposed to lay down the law with their kids?

If you have a happy young smartphone user at home or if you have a young someone who is asking for a smartphone from Santa, take a moment to establish what rules are going to apply.

In the ever-evolving culture of our digital era, these are 10 commonly accepted etiquette rules that apply to smartphones. Remember, not every rule will be a priority for you or even a right fit for your family. But these will give you a starting point for thinking about how you want your kids to behave when they have the entire internet in their palm.

It’s also important to remember that you and your partner should emulate the same rules you have set for the kids (after all, it’s not fair that you hold them to a higher standard than you hold yourself).

Keep parents informed of all apps and platforms

While children and teens deserve a certain amount of privacy, the internet is one of the few places where parents shouldn’t compromise. As your children get a little older, you can allow them to have more freedom, but especially young children need to ask permission before they start using apps like Facebook, Instagram or TikTok. Remind them that they should never accept friend/follow requests from people they do not know personally and that anything they post will reflect on their character (so no foul language or mean comments).

Be timely in your response

Part of the beauty of a smartphone is that it makes people easier to contact. Although a kid can’t be expected to be available every second the day, they should not be negligent in their response to anyone, especially if it is from an adult. If they are at a friend’s house and you’re trying to find out what time they’ll be home, they should reply within an hour. If Grandma and Grandpa text to wish them a happy birthday, they should say thank you. A smartphone is not meant to be a one-way device.

Furthermore, children and teens should reply using the same method of communication unless there’s a good reason. Respond to calls with a call back, not with a text message. Similarly, if somebody texts you but your response is better explained with a call, say, “May I call and talk through this with you?”

Phones go away for homework and meals

Phones easily become a distraction when kids are supposed to be focused on something else. Although it is acceptable for responsible children to have their phone on them in case somebody is trying to contact them, they should not be pulling out their phone to scroll mindlessly. If this becomes a problem, set a rule that they must put their phone in a different room.

Phones away at bedtime

No kid needs to stay up all night long scrolling through the internet. But there’s another reason phones at bedtime are a bad idea: The type of light phones give off (known as blue light) suppresses your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Set phones on their charging station (outside of the bedroom, so that any notifications in the middle of the night can’t be heard) an hour before bedtime and leave them there until morning.

Be present in person

When children are at a social gathering or visiting with someone, whether it’s something as simple as family dinner in the evening or a party on a Saturday afternoon, they should put their phones away and give their undivided attention to the people they’re with. They should also put their phone on silent so that there are no distracting notifications going off every couple of minutes. If a child must check their phone for a special reason, they should say, “Excuse me,” and (if appropriate) offer a short but reasonable explanation as to why they need to check their phone.

Remember that your phone isn’t show-and-tell

Phones can be a great source of entertainment, but that doesn’t mean that other people want to see what you’ve been looking at on your phone all day long. Even a kid’s closest friends and family members don’t want to look at every single photo they took, every meme they laughed at, every video they watched, and so forth. It’s not that others are disinterested—it’s just overwhelming. A child can ask, “May I show you something?” but they should not be whipping out their phone to make people look at something every minute of the day.

Don’t look at another person’s phone

It’s natural to be curious about what other people do on their phones. But children should understand that looking at somebody else’s phone without their permission is like eavesdropping on a conversation. If a stranger is using their phone in public (for example, on a nearby park bench), children should know not to look over their shoulder to see what they’re doing. Similarly, if a friend shows them a picture, that’s not permission to start scrolling through their entire photo reel.

Take and share photos only with permission

It’s exciting to have a camera with you wherever you go, but that doesn’t mean a child is allowed to be the paparazzi. Teach them that they should not be taking photos of people they see in public. There will be opportunities for them to take plenty of photos with their friends or family members, but they should ask for permission before they post and share those photos to any social media platforms. Some people prefer not to have their lives documented.

Use headphones in public

Phones can make a lot of noise in general, but this is especially true when you’re using them to watch videos, listen to music or play games. If your child is using their phone for any of these reasons when they’re around other people—for example, they’re sitting on a park bench where others are nearby, or they’re hanging out in the family room at home—they should use headphones so other people don’t have to listen to the noise.

Clean your screen every day!

Your phone can get really gross from your germy fingers touching it all the time. Some reports even claim that the average smartphone is dirtier than a toilet seat! Encourage children to practice good hygiene by giving their phone screen a daily wipe-down. Use a microfiber cloth dampened with a 50-50 mixture of rubbing alcohol and water for best results.

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