Photo: Bark.us

Your kids have been begging for one all year, and you’ve finally decided it’s time for their first smartphone. That’s super exciting for them—but perhaps slightly terrifying for you.

You’re not alone, though, parents. More children than ever will be getting their first device this holiday season. Since we know what’s coming once that device is activated, here are a few tips to make the experience more pleasant—and much safer—for everyone.

You’ve Had “The Talk”…Right?

We don’t mean that talk, but hey, it might be a good time for that, too, since kids are just a few clicks away from some pretty awkward conversations. The talk to which we’re referring is repeated talks about cyber safety from the moment your children first start using the internet.

They know the internet doesn’t come with an eraser, right? Do they know about digital footprints? When you hear about cyberbullying in the news, do you talk about it as a family? If your children are at that “flirting with their peers” stage, do they know that taking a suggestive photo rarely stays between the sender and receiver? Do they know that sharing a nude photo of an underage peer might be considered distribution of child pornography? Did you know that sexting is the new first base?

Oof. This is where we are, people. These are the kinds of issues that are really happening to families just like yours, so please, for the love of humanity, talk to your children about safe technology usage in ways that are age-appropriate—and do it often.

Make a Technology Contract

Your tweens and teens are rapidly approaching adulthood, which is chock-full of contracts surrounding big, important life events. Why not give them an official agreement for this life event as well? There’s something super serious about signing your name to a commitment, and this technology contract will help avoid any gray areas surrounding your expectations about how they should use their new device. It is also extremely satisfying to point to said document when issues arise and say, “See? You read this and signed it yourself—right here.”

There are so many technology contracts across the web, including this free one that we created. Tailor it for your specific family dynamic, and keep it in a place that can be easily referenced.

Avoiding “Not My Kid” Syndrome

We know, we know, it’s not your child. It’s not our children, either. This is the same thing our parents thought about us when we were in middle and high school. Little did they know that we were actually doing [insert what they thought you weren’t doing here], and thankfully, we didn’t have smartphones to document all of those fill-in-the-blank moments. Over 50 percent of children with accounts connected to Bark, an parent monitoring app,  experience at least one issue per month, and 82 percent of the time, their parents had no idea until our alerts brought it to their attention.

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These kids are good kids. Smart kids. But ultimately, they’re still just kids—and kids make mistakes. They also delete texts before you can spot-check their devices and speak in text slang using acronyms and emojis that would make you clutch your pearls. Know that issues like cyberbullying, sexting, thoughts of suicide and depression, eating disorders, potential drug use and online predators are actually harming children every day—and they can all be caught by a monitoring service.

Giving your child a device while neglecting technology that keeps them safer online is like giving them the keys to a car with faulty brakes and no seatbelt. Don’t do that.

Settings, Settings & More Settings

Speaking of technology that can keep your children safer, make sure you know what parental controls are available from your home internet service provider (ISP), cell phone service provider, internet browsers and your child’s specific device. In addition to Bark, most of the major cell service providers offer apps and services to limit and monitor your child’s data usage.

This Is Your Brain…Online

More than 92% of teens are online, and 73% check their digital channels daily. It’s well documented that smartphone usage stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as sugar, sex and cocaine. It’s no wonder we can’t put them down—you’re probably reading this post on one right now!

The good thing for those of us born pre-1980-something is that we know what life is like without everyone’s face buried in a glowing device. We know the difference between real life and Instagram’s filtered highlight reel. We know how it feels to be bored for hours at a time, talk to people face-to-face, date without swiping right or sit by a phone attached to a wall waiting for someone to call.

Our kids don’t—and they never will. It’s important for us all to be aware of how these devices are affecting us and to make sure our kids understand the risks of using them. At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid that a smartphone will change our children’s lives for the worse.

By fostering a relationships of trust and talking through digital issues, our kids can connect to the world around them, and we can rest assured knowing we’ve done our best to keep them safe.