10 rules for safe family cell phone use

1. Have a conversation about when it’s OK and not OK to use the phone for talking, texting, apps and other functions. This should include both time and place. Talk about rules for cell phone use during dinner, at social events and in public places like movie theaters and restaurants.

2. Consider having a centralized resting place for the phones to charge up while family members are sleeping. There are lots of reasons why phones shouldn’t be used or sending out audible alerts after bedtime. Just because your phone may also be an alarm clock doesn’t mean it necessarily should be sitting on your or your kids’ nightstand.

3. Talk about the polite use of the phone, such as not talking in a loud voice (people think it’s necessary but it usually isn’t) and not talking or texting in a way that will disturb others or violate your privacy.

4. Never text, send email, use apps or configure the phone’s GPS while driving, riding a bicycle or on a skateboard. There have even been “texting while walking” accidents, so be sure that you don’t hurt yourself and others.

5. Kids need to know that phones can cost a lot of money to replace (sometimes far more than the subsidized price you might have bought it for). Be careful around water and be gentle with the screen. Consider getting insurance to cover loss and damage.

6. Consider software that not only provides some security but also helps avoid loss. Products like Apple’s free “Find my iPhone” and Lookout.com’s free security app for Android can send a loud alert if the phone is missing, can wipe the phone’s data if it’s lost or stolen and can actually show you — on a map — where the phone is as long as the phone is on and the battery is not dead. Because these apps can locate the phone, they can also locate the family member.

7. Be sure that all family members understand the appropriate use of the phone’s camera. Avoid taking and sharing pictures that may be inappropriate or that could embarrass you or get you into trouble. And consider other people’s privacy when taking and pictures of those around you.

8. Be careful about any apps you download and install. While most apps are fine, there are some that pose security and privacy risks. Read the reviews and make sure that the app is from a legitimate source.

9. Make sure that anything you post using social networking apps or websites is appropriate.  And be aware that smartphones have web browsers so whatever rules apply to Internet use at home should also apply to browsing on smartphones.

10. Make sure all family members understand the cost of using their phone. That includes any charges for calls, text and data as well as the purchasing and use of apps and in-app purchases.

And parents, one more thing: What you do is more important than what you say so be sure to be a good role model and don’t let your kids see you violating these rules.

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