Kids and Cell Phones: Learn from My Mistakes

teacher-chalkboardGiving your kid a cell phone is definitely akin to opening Pandora’s Box … eventually you have a new, technological tug-of-war on your hands. At first, our middle-schooler was so excited to get her shiny pink phone, she was content making an occasional call or two. Three years later, she acts as if we’re removing a limb if we separate her and the phone. (You think I jest – the other night she literally cried, “It’s like you’re yanking off my arm,” in response to my insistence that her cell phone stay in my room overnight.)

Here are some tips to minimize the cell tension at home. (Note: I only used some of these steps; others, I wish I took. See if you can guess the issues we struggle with at our house.)

  • Set up a practice that once your children arrive home, their cell phones are “parked” in a central place; perhaps establish a family cell-charging station on a kitchen counter. This way, you can monitor the phone’s whereabouts and it’s less likely you’ll walk in to discover your child talking behind closed doors during the wee hours of the night.
  • As soon as you purchase the phone, create a rule that no cell phones can be nearby while doing homework. Yes, the phone may look like it’s not in use, but the reality is your kid will be grabbing it to text every time you turn your back (if not now, then eventually). Trust me, this rule is very hard to institute after the fact. Having a central place for phones from the very beginning (see above) helps with this battle.
  • If you decide to allow texting capacity (which we did), sign-up for unlimited texting. This one is a no brainer. While I thought the young guy at the cell phone store was trying to up-sell us when we bought the phone, I now realize he was a wise woman in disguise. It’s all fine and good to tell your child that s/he’ll have to pay for any excess-text charges, but it’s another matter when that charge comes to several hundred (or even a thousand) dollars in one month. Your children may have no interest in texting when you first buy the phone, but the texting bug will bite them. Again, trust me.
  • Teach your children cell phone etiquette. In my world, this translates to children making no (or very short) calls when they have real-life friends in their presence. It irritates me to no end when I’m driving a group of teens and one of them whips out his/her cell phone and starts yakking to somebody else. This is a common occurrence in teen world (maybe in adult world, too, I just don’t hang around those types of adults). Parents need to educate kids about what is and is not appropriate cell phone usage. (Maybe pose the question, “What’s it like for you when Sally starts talking on her phone and you’re left to stare off into space?)

Finally, let me acknowledge the fact that having my kids tote around cell phones has made my life easier in some ways. Less waiting around at pick-up time. Increased comfort that a change in plans can be communicated quickly. Those early cell phone years were bliss. I remember asking myself why did I fight the cell phone rite of passage for so long.

I think it would be a lot smoother sailing now if I’d only instituted the expectations above from the get-go. So, learn from my mistakes. And, please, anyone else with cell tips to share, help out your fellow wise women …

Comments

  • Sheryl Del Gigante Says:
    5-28-2008 22:25:23

    We got our daughter a cell phnone when she was 15 (she’s 17 now). Since she is the type of kid that needs a lot of structure, it wasn’t unusual that her cell phone use would be structured as well. We put rules in place from the get go. Now this may or may not work for your kids, but this is how it works for her:

    1. No cell phone access/use during the week, except the one hour she talks to her boyfriend at night. They’re not allowed in her school anyway, so that’s a non issue. Anyone else she wants to talk to in the evening, she uses the home phone (so we can tell how long she’s on :-) .

    2. When she’s done with the hour, she brings her cell phone into our bedroom and doesn’t have access to it, so she won’t be tempted to make calls or text.

    3. Weekends, she pretty much has it all day/evening, but we still get it before she goes to sleep (or else she wouldn’t sleep at all)

    Now as I said, she’s pretty use to structure, so doesn’t complain about this. This may not work with more “spirited teens”, but the best shot you have is to make the rules right away,when they are still negotiating (being for) the phone -BEFORE the calling behavior gets established and while YOU still have leverage – “OK, you can get a phone, but here’s the rules” at that point they’ll agree to anything, just to get it.

    Good luck!


  • Elaine Says:
    5-31-2008 07:48:30

    One hour a day during the week!?!?! Oh, Sheryl, how I wish I heard your idea way back when. Life would’ve been sooooooo much easier. Good for you!

    While it may not be feasible for parents to go from allowing 12+ hour/day access to 1-hour/day, I do think it’s possible to still put limits in place. While I find myself wary of instituting rules after-the- fact (half the time, I’m thinking, “Do I really want to deal with the hassle this change is going to create?”), sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. That realization led to the change in cell phone rules in our house. And, there was HUGE push-back for about two weeks. However, now the rules are the new norm. The hassle was worth it.


  • Anne Says:
    5-31-2008 23:29:28

    I guess for the first time I’m thrilled that I don’t get cell service at my house….definitely helps set limits!


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