As a parent, it can feel like we are constantly competing for our children’s time. A ringing cell phone can be our ultimate opponent. Phones have amazing capabilities and will be part of our family life. So, how can we teach our teens the balance of using a cell phone while maintaining family time and healthy habits? Here are some observations and suggestions before buying the first phone.
1. Define the appropriate hours of the day when the cell phone can be used. Does this include school hours? What time of day will the phone be turned on and off? **PARENT ALERT** I have seen many teens complaining of poor concentration at school and persisting fatigue only to determine they have been texting friends throughout the night.
2. Define situations when the cell phone must NOT be used. These situations may included family outings, dinner time, when engaging/talking with others, homework, and while driving. Enforce those rules for all members of the family, including yourself. During these times, the phone needs to be off. A phone on vibrate is still a distraction.
3. Hold the charger. Enforce that your child’s phone needs to be on the charger by the designated evening “off” time. Keep the charger in a secure place (parent’s bedroom or family common area). By keeping the charger, your child must return the phone to you or else it will stop working! While the phone is on the charger and in your possession, let your teen know that you may review all data on the phone including photos, text messages, and emails.
4. Involve your child in the purchase. Choose a milestone that has to be reached in order to begin considering a cell phone purchase. A birthday, graduation, or special achievement? Kids need to know all privileges, such as having a cell phone, often come with expectations and agreements. For pre-teens, reward good behaviors with “cell phone points” that can be redeemed for the first phone. Make an agreement defining what financial contributions your older teen will have to make towards the phone and/or phone plan (buy the phone, contribute to the service plan, pay for protection plan, etc.)
5. Control your cell phone plan. Review phone plan options online and decide what you feel is an appropriate plan for your child (number of minutes/texts, unlimited service, data plan). Ask about discounts for family plans. What about phone insurance or protection plans? What happens if your child misplaces his/her phone? Is your teen responsible for any overage charges?
6. Decide what phone features are necessary and which are not needed before shopping. Does your pre-teen need the slide-out QWERTY keyboard and 8.0 megapixel camera? Deciding on the features before visiting the store may avoid some arguments while shopping. Does your teen want the phone with more features than previously agreed? Make them pay the difference in price!
7. Teach cell phone etiquette by modeling it yourself. Model the priority of actual human interaction.
8. Remind your kids that phones are a privilege, not a right or an absolute. Your kids should maintain a level of responsibility with the phone or you may take it away. These responsibilities may include academic performance, sleep habits, moving violations, family participation, curfew, and social activities.
9. No phones during homework. Nope, not even on vibrate.
10. Discuss the consequences of “sexting”, illicit photographs, and cyber-bullying.
The amount of time spent in real conversation with our teens drastically decreases as they age. Homework, activities, and social calendars put family time in the back seat. It is the fleeting moment in the car to the grocery store, while enjoying TV together, or watching a ball game that can become an unexpected meaningful moment if parents and teens are engaged with each other. Cell phones are a distraction from this engagement. Placing simple boundaries on the cell phone is one action to help recapture bits of quality time that our kids need and deserve.