Did your child get a mobile phone for Christmas? It's time to set some ground rules

This festive season many 12-year-olds around Australia may have found themselves the recipient of a brand new iPhone from a very generous Santa Claus (or a not so cool second-hand HTC from more thrifty-minded parents).

A phone can bring a range of positive experiences and better safety but there are also numerous pitfalls to consider. Perhaps it is at the moment of acquisition that the boundary lines need to be drawn up in ink and agreements forged in binding signatures.

Your children are never too young to learn to abide by contracts or risk the consequences. Without an agreement in place (or at least an in-depth conversation) you may run the risk of a zombified child glued to his or her phone, spending hundreds in the App store and posting regrettable content online.

A child possessing a mobile phone throughout their high school years can be beneficial - Tyson can call to get picked up after sport, Emma can let you know she is studying at a friend’s place - and being active on social media can be an important social interaction for your kids.

What a phone is not good for is unfettered access to the internet, unlimited time on the device, potential interaction with unknown individuals and - as mentioned above - regretful content being posted online, never to disappear. It is for this reason that parents might consider drafting a contract with their child about the rules around phone usage.

The Queensland Police Department has a contract that you can download and have your children sign that pledges good behaviour on the internet. Some examples include never sharing a photo without permission, telling your parents if you see words or pictures that makes you uncomfortable and allowing parents access to passwords and email addresses.

Whether you live in Queensland or not, this document could be used to provide inspiration for your own agreement that you might enter into with your child. You may like to add things like turning the phone off at a certain time each night and not keeping it overnight in their room. At the very least, this document will help you consider the myriad of things you need to be across now that your child has a phone.

At times it can be quite challenging to stay up-to-date with technology and all but impossible to remain as savvy as kids in this realm, a place they’ve grown up in and where they have the home ground advantage. It can be for this reason that violations of any agreement can occur with kids cleverly evading monitoring or not being entirely accurate when asked how they are using the device. But never fear, there are a range of apps on the market to help keep track of what your child is doing on their device (or more accurately your device, since you’re the one paying for it).

There is an app called Forcefield which can be installed on your child’s phone and will allow you to remotely turn off apps, games and social media, restrict mature content and provide daily reports showing the websites your child has visited, what time of day and for how long.

For something less invasive, iPhone and Android both have parental features built into their software to restrict web browsing and control access to apps and purchases. Regardless of the method it is important that you have a conversation with you child so that he or she understands your expectations - and also understands that the boundaries you put in place are for his or her protection.

Whether it’s a written contract, a monitoring app or a conversation with your child, ensuring harmful elements are more than just a click away should be a priority.

What are the phone and social media rules in your house?

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