I have two sons–a teen and a tween. The older one has a cell phone, and the younger is about to get one. For today’s Deep-Fried Friday, I wanted to talk about setting cell phone rules. What’s reasonable? What’s not?
In my teen years, I had several phone rules. No hogging the phone. There was no call waiting then. No calling anyone after 9:00 p.m. No calling boys. Yes, that was a rule in my house, unless it was an already-established boyfriend. At any time that I was talking, people could walk by and hear my side of the conversation. Privacy was thus limited.
All of these rules don’t work in today’s teen world. Kids text and tweet and get on Facebook, and unless we hover over them and watch the screen, we don’t know what all they’re doing on that little piece of technology. But experts agree that there need to be parameters, boundaries, rules, especially when you’re the one paying the cell phone bill.
So what should some of the rules be? In my house, here are some of the rules and principles we try to establish.
1. The cell phone gets turned off at night. During the school year, it’s 9 p.m. During summer, it’s 10 p.m. Kids need sleep, but the draw of chatting with a friend can be too much unless it’s just not an available option. I must keep my cell phone on during the night in case an emergency occurs and family needs to reach me, but why does a 13 year old need access to a phone at 3 a.m.? So we tell the boys the phone must get shut off at night.
2. Focus on people when you’re with people. These days, it’s not surprising to see two people–teens or adults–sitting at a restaurant table and fiddling with their phones. I even admit to having my husband ask me to put away my phone when we were on a date. (I was checking blog comments! LOL.) But it’s a good practice to set the phone down and spend time face-to-face when you have that opportunity. I recently saw this photo and thought it was a great idea for parties:
Phones are a wonderful way to connect with people who aren’t near you. However, when you are with someone, it should become a habit to give that person or people all or most of your attention.
3. When I call, you answer. One of the biggest reasons to get your kid a cell phone is for you, the parent, to be able to reach them. You may need to inform your child of a change in schedule, remind them of a task they need to do, or communicate how much they are your cutie-wootie-pie. Whatever your reason, you’re the parent, you pay the bill, and when you call, the kid should answer. Barring severe injury, zombie apocalypse, or unconsciousness, your communications to your child come first. So if I call or text my kid seven times, and get nothing back, I have to wonder what is the problem. And the answer better not be, “I was chatting on Facebook.” Thankfully, in my house, it’s usually something more oops-ish like “I forgot my phone.”
4. You break it, you buy it. We buy the first phone. If the teen breaks it, he must pay for repairs or a new phone. Or simply live with it. Unfortunately, my son dropped his cell phone in the first few months of having it, and he has for more than a year lived with a cracked screen. He is already saving up for the next phone and a protective cover. I consider this along the lines of that 16-year-old kid you knew growing up who wrecked his brand-new shiny sports car, and then his parents bought him another one! If you keep buying your kid sports cars or cell phones every time they break them, how motivated are they not to break them?
5. I pay attention, but I don’t snoop. My kids know that their accounts can be scanned by me at any time. I periodically pick up my son’s phone and scan through his text messages. Does this make him uncomfortable? A bit. However, I’m not reading the messages. I am not eavesdropping on his conversations. I’m looking for red flags–names of people I don’t know, extreme profanity, links to questionable websites, etc. If I find something, I want to be able to bring it to his attention, talk about it, and coach him through. Teenagers deal with a lot of pressure, and as a parent, I want to help him navigate the stormy waters. I would want to know if he was being bullied by someone through his phone, if he was being sent pornography, if he was being stalked or targeted in some way. And admittedly, I also want to know if my kid is behaving, more or less. So I pay attention, but I don’t catch all of the details.
6. You can talk to me about your concerns. If an image, video, or conversation comes through the cell phone that makes a son nervous, I want him to be able to talk to me about it. I have an “ask anything” policy in my house. That means my children won’t get in trouble if they ask an uncomfortable question. I’m willing to take the time to help my teen text a girl with courtesy and respect, if he wishes. I will answer what that textspeak means, even if it has three cuss words I don’t like. I will call the phone of that person who keeps calling and hanging up to figure out what’s going on. While there are rules for my sons, more importantly I have a relationship with them. The cell phone is a tool for connecting with others, and my kids may still need some parental assistance in dealing with others as they mature.
So what are your rules for cell phone usage? Do you think it’s reasonable to establish boundaries for teens? What were the rules you had as a teenager regarding the phone? As technology constantly changes, do you think we’ll have greater or less ability to help kids navigate the challenges?