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Parenting coach Niamh Hannan on teaching your kids responsibility – especially online

It’s said often because it’s true – parenting is one of life’s most difficult (and most rewarding) roles. Parents learn on the job. Navigating the difficulties of raising a child can be tricky at the best of times.

To lend a hand, we spoke to expert parenting coach Niamh Hannan to get the low-down on teaching your children responsibility – especially in the unchartered territory of smartphones and social media. Here are some FAQs.

When should kids get their first smartphone?

“I would really encourage parents of young children to hold off as long as possible! I see no need for primary school children to have a phone, although of course many do even from age 7 up. Once they have a smartphone you have very little control.”

How do I put boundaries in place with screens?

“From the beginning, once you give a child/teen a phone, I’d encourage you to do so on the understanding that they have to hand it over a half hour before bedtime – and then stick to that right through. There’s nothing worse than a young person being exposed to bullies and trolls late at night on their own in their bed, losing sleep and feeling isolated. Smartphones are like alcohol to the young brain – highly addictive. Parents: be aware!”

How do I deal best with my little ones becoming teenagers?

“Let out the rope one inch at a time – gradually give your teen more responsibility in addition to more freedom. If they cope okay with that, then you can progress to the next step. The most important thing through the turbulent teen stage is to keep communication open. Prioritise rules and arguments – your relationship is more important than a clean room. Don’t take your teen personally.”

And how can I maintain a healthy relationship with my teenager – and their phone?

“Keep communication lines open with your teen. And monitor phone/internet usage! In first year phone usage is usually still on the sensible side, but by third year most teens are using their phone for too many hours a day, and late into the night.”

Open up a dialogue and remain vigilant

“Discuss, negotiate, learn about parental controls, learn about any apps they are using, learn about their social media. Many social media sites have a minimum age requirement – respect that, it’s there for a reason. Even if you fully trust your own child, once they are online you don’t really know who they are in contact with and being influenced by. Our job as parents is to protect them as much as we can, to keep them safe. They don’t really understand the online risks so it’s up to parents to communicate and put boundaries in place from the beginning.”

And finally… Niamh’s one essential tip

“Love your child unconditionally but know how to be firm too. Being able to say No (appropriately) helps create boundaries and safety.”

Niamh Hannan is a Chartered Psychologist with 18 years of specialised experience counselling teenagers and parents. She was the parenting expert on Newstalk’s Moncrieff Show for 2 years. More information and contact details are available through her website mindworks.ie. If in doubt, seek help by talking to your GP.

Looking for some more articles about mental health and parenting? Look no further than our Health Hub.