5 Tips to Help Kids Use Their New Phones Safely

By Elizabeth Englander and Katharine Covino, coauthors of You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book)

More and more often, children get their first phone when still in elementary school. A 2017 study found that more than half of kids had their first phone by the end of fifth grade. Phones for kids can make life a lot more convenient for parents, but there are risks involved in carrying these devices. We know that smartphones with kids can mean more time on a screen and less time playing with friends. Too much use can lead to obesity, eye trouble, and/or sleep problems. Kids sometimes find it harder to make or keep friends and can struggle with feelings of inadequacy or anxiety. Phones can even be a safety risk.

For these reasons, it is natural for you to have mixed feelings about getting your young child their first phone. But there are many positive reasons too. For example, you may worry about your child’s safety if they walk home alone, or you may want them to be able to socialize online with friends. So, mixed feelings or not, you may be thinking of getting your child their first phone, possibly as soon as September, before they head back to school.

And that decision may be a source of stress because you know that just handing this powerful device to your child can spell trouble. But there are lots of resources that can help your child learn to use their new phone in a safe and healthy way. We even wrote a funny, engaging book about it to help them learn the ins and outs of owning their first digital device.

Many of the problems that kids experience with phones can be avoided through education, creating savvy kids who know their way around a digital device. And by savvy, we don’t mean kids who know how to navigate their device or download an app. We mean kids who understand that phones are best used in moderation, that they can lead to problems and misunderstandings between friends, and that a little bit of prevention goes a long way.

This post is chock-full of practical tips, all based on scientific research, that can help your child use digital devices in a safe and healthy way. (And you can check out our book for more!) Here are a few tips you can discuss with your child:

1. Texting for Beginners: A How-To Guide

Talk to your child about the differences between chatting with someone in real life versus texting or messaging them on a phone. Discuss the ways nonverbal communication (seeing someone’s face or hearing someone’s tone of voice) can help you understand both what the person is saying and what they mean. Misunderstandings can happen without these important clues. Being aware of the potential for misreading a conversation can help new phone users avoid muddled misunderstandings and messy magnifications.

2. Ask First! Taking and Sharing Pictures

Discuss the reasons why it is important to ask others before taking, sharing, and posting pictures. Children might not realize that sharing a funny picture of a friend could be hurtful. They may need guidance about why it’s important to check in with others, and they may need clear language and modeling for how to do so.

3. Keeping Private Information Private

Studies show that children often think what they type, text, and share on the internet is private. Talk to them about how the internet is not private. Help reinforce the idea that just as they would never share their name, address, or birthday with a stranger at the mall or the beach, they should not share anything personal or private online. Once information is posted or shared, it can stay online forever.

4. Shaking a Bad Case of FOMO

Your child probably already knows how fun and awesome phones are. They may have been asking for one for a while. But it’s important to also discuss how sometimes phones can cause stress or anxiety. This can be the case if kids see that their friends are all doing something fun. They may feel anxious, sad, and left out. They may even develop a case of FOMO. Help your child understand that what gets posted online is the highlight reel—the best moments of the best days. Then, brainstorm ways to feel better. Maybe go for a walk outside together or set up an activity with another friend.

5. Striking a Healthy Balance

A new phone can quickly become a new obsession. Talk to your child about ways to maintain a good balance. Just like one piece of chocolate cake is amazing, but twenty-four pieces would be disastrous, a short period of time on the phone is great, but too many hours would be terrible. Kids may not know that certain apps or aspects of their phone use are designed to be addictive. Talk to your child about ways to use (and not abuse) their new phones. Discuss and agree about rules for how and where the phone can be used. Some folks prefer no phones in bedrooms, no phones at the dinner table, or no phones after a certain amount of time. All these approaches can encourage kids to take a healthier, more moderate approach to phone use.

Author Elizabeth EnglanderElizabeth Englander is a college professor who has spent more than 25 years doing research and thinking about ways to help kids be happier, less worried, and make more friends as they grow up. She’s written eight books and about a hundred really nerdy, technical articles in research journals. She likes writing, riding her bike, and very noisy power tools.  She has an equally nerdy husband and three kids and lives in Boston, Massachusetts.


Author Katharine CovinoKatharine Covino is a college professor who teaches teachers how to teach. She’s been a teacher for almost 20 years. She’s interested in finding ways of helping young teachers who are just starting out. She also writes about her work asking young kids interesting and tough questions. She believes that all students should be able to see themselves reflected in the books and stories they read. When she’s not teaching or writing, Katharine tries to keep up with her kids. Despite her very best efforts, they are all faster swimmers, hikers, and skiers than she is. She also tries to make them laugh, and sometimes she is successful. Katharine lives near Boston, Massachusetts.

You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book) book coverElizabeth and Katharine are coauthors of You Got a Phone! (Now Read This Book)

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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How to Help Kids Set and Respect Boundaries with Friends

By Lydia Bowers, author of the We Say What’s Okay series 

As we begin a new school year, children are excited to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. Friendships can be a great source of both satisfaction and frustration, and they help children build social and emotional skills as they navigate the inevitable ups and downs. One of these skills is setting and respecting boundaries—the lines that help us feel safe, loved, and respected in a relationship, and a key to being a good friend.

How to Help Kids Set and Respect Boundaries with Friends

Hard Boundaries

Some boundaries may be very clear and are generally shared by most people. These include things like not hitting each other. Other hard boundaries may not be shared by everyone, but are still explicit, such as, “I don’t like to be tickled!” All people have expectations for how they want to be treated, and it’s important to respect others’ boundaries. For young children, some of these boundaries may show up in home or classroom rules and guidelines, learning through play, or from adult intervention.

Fuzzy Boundaries

While hard boundaries are clear, other boundaries may be a little tricky. Some teasing may be fun and silly but can shift into something hurtful. Children may be surprised if they are having fun and a friend expresses hurt from the actions. In this case, children can apologize and go back to doing something everyone enjoys.

Shifting Boundaries

Have you heard the saying “consent can always be revoked”? It means that even if someone agrees to or gives permission for an activity, they can change their minds at any time. Because friends can change their minds, it is important for children to learn to check in with each other and themselves. They can ask: Is my friend still enjoying this? Are they feeling safe? Am I still enjoying this and feeling safe?

Helping Children Accept Boundaries

How should children respond when a friend is hurt or creates a boundary that the child is not sure about? Help them understand that their reactions are their responsibility. It’s okay to feel hurt or disappointed when someone sets a boundary—feelings are part of being human! When this happens, invite children to stop and think about how their body is feeling and what it is trying to tell them. Then encourage them to think about and try to understand how the boundary-setter might be feeling. This requires empathy. You can help children use their own experiences to try to understand someone else. You might say, “They don’t feel like being hugged right now. Sometimes you don’t like to be tickled, and you know what it feels like not to want to be touched in a certain way. Maybe that’s how they feel?”

Setting a Good Example

“We can provide our children with opportunities for play with their peers. We can offer them suggestions for compromise, and we can intervene when necessary. But our greatest gift may be the examples we set in our own relationships. It is from us, I believe, that our children are likely to learn best.”—Fred Rogers

As adults, we can model setting and respecting boundaries. Not every child likes a hug greeting, for example. A child in your home or classroom might prefer a high-five or handshake instead. So be sure to learn about what the children in your life do and don’t like. Respecting children’s autonomy teaches them that we care about them and their boundaries!

Children are still learning to listen to their bodies, and you can offer support and guidance. Listen and watch for children’s emotional responses. You might say, “I see that your fists are clenched up right now. Sometimes that means we’re feeling frustrated or angry. Would you like to talk about how you’re feeling?” Tuning in to body cues can help children identify areas where boundary-setting may be helpful. You may need to give words to a child’s boundaries or help them define a boundary. For example: “It’s okay to tell your friend, ‘I don’t like when you touch my hair. Please stop!’”

Lydia BowersLydia Bowers is a speaker, consultant, and trainer who happily exists in the Venn diagram overlap between early childhood and sex education. After spending almost two decades working directly with children as a classroom teacher and a parent, she is passionate about reframing sexuality conversations. Lydia now teaches families and educators how to talk to children about subjects like gender, reproduction, and abuse. When she’s not traveling around the country for conferences and speaking engagements, she lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children and adds to her growing collection of children’s book character tattoos as often as she can. Follow her on TikTok @lydiatalksconsent.

We Say What's Okay series logoLydia is the author of the We Say What’s Okay series.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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Enter for a Chance to Win Four Books for Teens!

This month we are giving away four books that help teens explore emotions, overcome challenges, and make a difference in the world. One lucky reader will win Simple Acts (hot off the press!), Dream Up Now!, Slaying Digital Dragons, and The Struggle to Be Strong. Follow the steps below to enter and unlock bonus entries.

Teen Books Giveaway

The winner will be contacted via email on or around September 6, 2022, and will need to respond within seven business days to claim their prize, or another winner will be chosen. The winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

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9 Fun Ideas for Welcoming Students Back to School and Getting Them Excited to Learn

By Andrew Hawk

9 Fun Ideas for Welcoming Students Back to School and Getting Them Excited to LearnI hope all of you have been enjoying a relaxing summer. Before I had children of my own, I used to think summers passed more slowly than the rest of the year. There was always less to do when school was out. Now, each day seems to go faster than the one before, regardless of the season.

This summer was one of the most needed summers in recent history, in my opinion. After more than two years of teaching and learning during a global pandemic, educators and students alike were exhausted. Rest and relaxation were the interventions that everyone needed. While we’ve now had some time to relax, this summer has flown by, and it is almost time to welcome students back to school. Here are some ideas I hope you will try to create an enthusiastic start to the year!

1. Decorate the School

If you choose this idea, be sure to go all out and make passersby wonder if it is someone’s birthday. Fill balloons with helium. Hang streamers in the hallways. Decorate windows with erasable markers. Rent one of those inflatable tube people (I think they’re called sky dancers) that businesses set by the road to attract attention. Creating a party atmosphere will get students excited to be back at school.

2. Organize a Pep Rally

You might think of pep rallies as something for middle and high school students only, usually relating to school sports. But pep rallies are a great way to show and create school spirit, and you can have one at any grade level. Most students are always up for shouting and singing school songs. Kick off the year with a welcome-back pep rally.

3. Greet Students in the Hallways

This is already a given at many schools. Students are happier to be back if staff are also visible and happy. Have all school personnel take to the hallways on the first day of school, with smiles and greetings at the ready. Invite custodians, the school resource officer, school board members, the superintendent, and whoever else works at the school. The more people there to help welcome students back, the better. This is a fast and easy way to start the year on a positive note.

4. Host an Open House

The open house is a school tradition in many places and was one of the many activities that were interrupted by the pandemic. In Indiana, we are now able to resume this event. Having the chance to come in and see their new classrooms and desks and meet their new teachers and classmates can help students with first-day jitters and make the transition to a new school year a bit easier.

5. Hold a Special Breakfast

This event can be done in a few different ways. You might choose to organize smaller breakfasts by grade level or class or have one big breakfast event for the entire school. It has been my experience that students are excited to see their principal serving food. So break out the chef’s hat and tongs!

6. Play Getting-to-Know-You Games

This idea is more for an individual class than an entire school. Getting-to-know-you games are a great icebreaker activity for the first day of school and can help build classroom community. There are literally hundreds of options to choose from. When I was a classroom teacher, my personal favorite involved passing out small candies like M&M’s or Skittles and asking students to answer different questions based on the color of the candies. A quick online search can help you find the perfect game for your class, or you can make up your own.

7. Do a Fun Writing Prompt

When I was a classroom teacher, I liked to end the year by having students write letters to the future class telling them what to expect. On the first day of school, I would pass the letters out and have students take turns reading them. I would then have the new class write a letter back to the previous year’s students. If you prefer something a little more traditional, you can always fall back on the tried-and-true, “What do you hope to learn this year?”

8. Head Outdoors

Having class outside is a special welcome-back event that most students enjoy. Weather permitting, plan to take a short lesson or an interactive read-aloud outdoors on the first day of school.

9. Do a Team-Building Activity

Unlike their adult counterparts, students are almost always excited by a team-building activity. These activities are easily paired with STEM or project-based learning activities. A classic is the “Build a Tower” activity. I have completed this as a participant and as an instructor, and I can confidently say that it is timeless. If you are not familiar with this activity, participants are split into teams and given various supplies you likely already have on hand. Teams are tasked with building a tower using the supplies. At the end of the activity, the team with the tallest tower wins. This is another area where a quick online search can produce lots of results. Find the perfect activity for you!

Enjoy the rest of your summer, everyone!

For more resources to help kids of all ages handle the ups, downs, ins, and outs of heading back to school, check out our collection of back-to-school books.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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How to Foster Self-Advocacy in Children

By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie’s Class Has Something to Say 

How to Foster Self-Advocacy in ChildrenFar too often we see the children in our lives as their gender and age group and make decisions accordingly. We put preschoolers in swimming class and sign six-year-olds up for soccer.

As adults, we love the kids in our lives. We know what they need, and it’s our job to keep them healthy and foster their development. But sometimes our ideas and expectations don’t fit the actual individuals we are raising. What can seem like children rebelling might actually be a child screaming—literally and figuratively—to be heard.

My child’s grandmother has an especially challenging time managing her expectations of what my nonbinary child should like and how they should behave. One time when the two of them went out for lunch together, she assumed that she could order anything off the children’s menu and her young grandchild would enjoy it. She could not have been more wrong! My child refused to eat the congealed mac-and-cheese they were served, no matter how “fun” the presentation was.

Asking children about their preferences and encouraging them to make choices is key to establishing and teaching healthy communication. It also teaches a child to have confidence in their ideas and opinions and what it means to respect someone else. The more children are empowered to share, the easier it will be for them to make good decisions and know how to interact with peers in respectful ways.

Giving children the space to speak up is also fundamental to establishing trust between child and adult. When children have an adult in their life who really takes the time to listen, hear them, and respond to what they are saying, they know the door is wide open for them to communicate something serious that is affecting them or someone they know.

Here’s a fun activity that can facilitate children sharing their preferences and opinions.

All About Me Worksheets

  1. Create a worksheet with a list of topics such as favorite food, least favorite food, favorite color, a sound you dislike, favorite toy, favorite movie, biggest fear, etc. Be sure to leave space after each topic.
  2. Give each child a copy of the worksheet and ask them to fill it out. If your age group isn’t reading and writing yet, you can read each line out loud, and they can draw their answers.
  3. The worksheets can be posted in the group space to share everyone’s ideas. Or you can use the responses for the following activity.

Treasure Hunt of Friends

  1. Using the responses you collected from the previous activity, create a treasure hunt of friends.
  2. Give each child a new worksheet to fill out with items such as: find four people whose favorite food is pizza, find someone who loves Toy Story, etc.
  3. Children walk around and talk to one another to complete their sheets.
  4. If the children are too young to read and write, place images instead of words followed by the correct number of apple outlines. The children can still walk around and speak to one another to find the answers, but they only need to write the person’s initials in an apple.
  5. If you feel your group isn’t ready to walk around with their sheets, you can still share the responses as a circle time activity by asking everyone with a specific answer to stand up or do a different type of movement.

The more we can do to really get to know the individual children in our lives and show that we respect their ideas even when we don’t agree, the more self-assured children will become and the better able they’ll be to speak up for themselves and others.

Afsaneh MoradianAfsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young child) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.

Free Spirit books by Afsaneh Moradian:
Jamie Is Jamie Jamie and Bubbie book cover Jamie's Class Has Something to Say book cover

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2022 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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