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5 things you should discuss before your child gets a phone

A lot of parents haven't considered the potential implications that a phone or device can have on your child's safety and development before they are gifted or given one. 

Not because they don't care about those issues but more so because the things that may or may not effect a child's safety are not something a parent or caregiver is thinking about or generally looking for online in their own usage of a device and a lot of parent's are unaware, just how quickly a child can go down an 'unsafe' rabbit hole on the internet or apps. 

Here are 5 conversations we believe all caregivers should have with their children BEFORE gifting or giving them a phone of their own.  

I am of the belief and opinion, after my time as a detective and child abuse investigator, that if you can't have these conversations with your children or think they aren't old enough to know them, then they aren't ready for a phone. 

1. Protective Behaviours 

Protective Behaviours (PB) education is the cornerstone of child abuse prevention. You need to ensure your child has PB education under their belt from as early as 2 years old but even more so before they get a phone. 

PB's will enable your child to know what's appropriate or inappropriate behaviours both in person and online, identify when they feel unsafe, will know about secrets vs surprises and what's safe and unsafe about them and who they can go to for help when they feel unsafe. 

PB's will enable them to identify and know that when they feel unsafe online or if someone is acting inappropriately that they can speak with an adult, parent or caregiver who will help them in that situation. 

Google 'Protective Behaviours' and search for a course in your area or online to learn more about teaching protective behaviours to your children or check out the 'Helpful Links' section of our website. 

2. Sex

Your child needs to understand and know that there is sexually explicit content online and without discussing sex first, how can you explain this to them? 

Sex is not shameful or wrong to talk about with children. It is actually proven that the more open and honest parents and caregivers are around the topic of sex and sex education, the longer children wait to become sexually active and the more thought and caution they take before they take that step. 

You can discuss sex in age appropriate ways and a discussion about sex and sexually explicit content needs to be had before they get a phone. If you can't have this conversation, then are they ready for a phone? Because the amount of this content is phenomenal online and they WILL stumble across it or be shown it by friends and not knowing or being educated about sex, will put them in harms way. 

3. Sexting

I had a student say to me the other day during a presentation that 'Sexting, is this generations way of flirting'. 

Whether you want to believe this or not, I can confirm that the pressure to send and share nudes or semi-nude images online is HUGE for young people. We also know that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have reported as seeing a 400% increase in self-produced child sexual abuse material (CSAM) since COVID began. 

The only way I know for young people to NOT send nudes is to understand the risks associated with sending them. Once that photo leaves their phone, they have no control or say in what happens to it. I have also seen and know that kids as young as 8 or 9 are producing their own nudes to send to online groomers because their parents haven't educated or told them not to. 

If you can't talk to your kids about this or don't feel comfortable discussing this with them, then your child is not ready for a phone. 

4. Consent

Consent is not discussed nearly enough today because a lot of us weren't taught the true definition or meaning or the legal ramifications behind consent. However, consent in today's world is a MUST know lesson. 

This lesson would be covered to some extent under protective behaviours but in regards to consent and phones/devices, the need for further consent discussions and education is imperative. 

Consent isn't just about sex either. Young people need to understand how to ask for consent when doing the following also:

- Taking a photo of someone or something. Asking for consent before taking a photo/video of someone or someone's home/business is respectful. 

- Posting someone's image or a video containing someone's image. Asking for consent is respectful and begins a conversation and encourages critical thinking about appropriate and inappropriate posting or behaviours. 

- Forwarding/sharing a private message sent to them. Consent should be obtained from the other party before forwarding a message that was private. 

Consent can be considered for many reasons but the whole consent discussion is something we should be having and will change how we view our sharing of private and public information. 

5. Pornography

If you don't talk about pornography with your child, you are opening them up for potential harm. 

Pornography is rife online. One quick search on Google and your child could be watching billions of pornographic videos online. Don't believe me? That is exactly how children unintentionally find pornography online. 

The average age of a child seeing pornography for the first time is 8 years old but my experience has shown that children as young as 2 or 3 are seeing pornography and pornographic material unintentionally. 

The discussion around pornography doesn't need to be scary or hard and just needs to consist of a few key pointers along with ongoing supervision. 

- Pornography is a movie just like {insert Marvel or action movie they like to watch} here. It's actors and they are acting. 

- Pornography sometimes looks like the man and woman or men and women are hurting each other. 

- Pornography isn't how moms and dads or people who love each other have sex. It isn't like that in real life. 

- It is not for young people and for adults only. If the child is older you can tell them that it is illegal for someone to show them pornography. 

- If they have already seen it, ask them how and why they saw it and if they are ok? (I have had young children tell me it made them feel sick in the stomach) 

- Reassure them and tell them that they should close down the screen, turn it off and come tell an adult or you, if and when they accidentally come across it or see it so you can help them turn it off or close it down. 

If you can't have this conversation with your child, they aren't ready for a mobile phone! 

For more information or for a guide on how to talk about these topics with your kids, check out our book, Operation KidSafe - a guide to child abuse prevention in our store. All these topics are covered in detail with age appropriate discussion ideas and conversation starters.