The following story was produced in partnership with VTech® Kidibuzz.™
Your kids are part of the first generation to grow up with smartphones. Before this moment, a house had one phone and the courtesies around it were rather straightforward — speak up, be polite, and keep the line clear when mom or dad is expecting a call. Now everyone has a device, and most of us connect by texting, email, or social media first before we ever make a call. In other words, the rules of engagement have changed and so must the lessons we pass down to our kids about communication.
First of all, they’re going to need to practice. Whether or not you plan to give your kid a smartphone, chances are they have a device like the VTech® Kidibuzz™ that they can use to practice. The Kidibuzz™ is an easy-to-use gadget that’s also easy to monitor for moms and dads. The device comes with texting, photo-taking, and pre-approved website surfing capabilities that allow kids ages four to nine the necessary practice of handling a smartphone. Because the phone is easy to use and parents are able to control content, it’s an ideal teaching tool when it comes to proper smartphone etiquette.
Lesson 1: Start a screen time chart.
One of the most important lessons in smartphone etiquette these days is to acknowledge that screen time is an increasingly large part of all of our lives. This lesson goes just as much for the parents as for the kids: The best way to make sure you have a healthy relationship with your device is to keep tabs on the time that you use it. Set up a chart for kids (and parents, if you’re so bold) to show when everyone is allowed to use their devices and when it’s time to take a break.
Lessons 2: Encourage them to answer the phone, with their voice.
When your kids answer the phone encourage them to use basic manners. After a simple “Hello,” a response can range from “Hello Mrs. ____, how are you?” to “Hi, Mr. ____, how can I help you?” The language to teach your kids should be a bit more formal than they might actually use. Choosing not to speak formally is different than not knowing the polite way to initiate a conversation.
Lesson 3: Text together as a family.
While there are far bigger fish to fry in the world of polite behavior, it’s good to teach kids respectful texting practices. What are those? For starters, always respond to a texted question; use emojis to show moods, but not to answer specific questions; and, yes, type out your “pleases” and “thank yous”. The best way to encourage these practices is to text each other as a family with fun, loving notes sent back and forth on their Kidibuzz™.
Lesson 4: Good manners come in many forms, TYVM.
By its very nature, texting is about taking vocabulary shortcuts. You know the drill (LOL). Help your kid build out their acronyms by insisting they know a few ways to express gratitude and thanks (TYVM!). It’s a small lesson with big, long-term benefits.
Lesson 5: Charge your phone at night, but not in your bedroom.
Have your child turn their device in before bed or create a family charging station located in the den or someplace other than your kid’s bedroom. Make it clear that this is to help with sleep and to keep in the habit of having a fully-charged device.
Lesson 6: Remember to use your indoor voice.
The volume you use when talking in a classroom or a quiet space is also the decibel level that’s appropriate for the phone. Shouting on smartphones is rude to the person you are speaking with and rude to those around you. Practice talking on the Kidibuzz™ with your child. Have them press the message button, then speak slowly, clearly, and without shouting as she sends you a message. Before responding, first let your child hear her message, then talk into your own phone in a soft voice. Have them listen on their device to the message you sent, so they can make the connection again.
Lesson 7: Learn to use ‘pause.’
If your child is playing a game on their device and someone comes over to speak with them, they need to know how to pause the game, put the device down, and respond. With Kidibuzz™, you can review the control panels for each of the 40-plus games the device comes loaded with. It’s easy for kids to forget that a live conversation always takes precedence over their virtual reality. Use their device to give them a reminder.
Lesson 8: Enjoy your device-free time.
Dinner is the perfect place to create a device-free zone. Decorate a shoebox together and collect everyone’s devices before the meal is served. Theaters, classrooms, the family dinner table — there are plenty of other places that might make your family’s personal no-texting list, but these are four almost everyone agrees on. To make that time more fun, create a family phone bucket (together!), stationed in the kitchen or just outside the dining room, where everyone empties their phones — ringers off — before the meal begins.