By Regan Forsyth of Eat Play Sleep Family Wellness
While mobile phones are a really convenient way to keep close touch with your pre-teens and teens, there is a lot more to be taken into consideration when deciding when is the right time to sign your son or daughter up. Cell phones are very different from how they were designed even ten years ago.
Almost every brand and model is capable of quick web searches, video chats, and giving us immediate and immense access to social media, instead of T9 texting, or emailing being the biggest excitement! Therefore, the readiness of your individual child, as well as your comfort zone and ability to monitor their usage, are huge factors these days.
Readiness & Responsibility
This has much more to do with your child’s level of responsibility and maturity than it does with their actual numerical age. Even in the same family, an older sibling might have been ready for a phone at 12, whereas the next teen might need to wait until 14, depending on their behaviour and character.
Below are a few important questions to ask yourself as well as crucial discussions to have with your child, when contemplating their cell phone activation.
Will I let my child take his phone to his room at bedtime? Evidence suggests that texting and social media are taking a huge toll on children’s sleep patterns. Many parents opt to have their kids use (and leave) their phones in a communal area of the home, such as the kitchen, to prevent constant or over use, especially at bedtime. This leads into the next question to consider…
Will my child agree and stick to an agreement to allow me to access their phone? A great idea to ensure they are using the phone responsibly, is to have them agree (before the purchase) to allow you access to it when or if you choose. I still look at our eldest’s iPod to see who she chats with and what they talk about, from time to time. As responsible use is demonstrated, trust is established and there is no need to do this, so your child will likely leave it happily in an area where you can access it, yet you won’t need or want to. This is not to say they won’t have any privacy, or that it’s okay for you to invade it, but all too often parents are becoming disconnected from their children when it come to their social behaviours. So it’s only natural as they approach the teen years, to give them some freedom to build trust and autonomy while keeping the parent/child bond strong, and relationship open. Another good point here, is to discuss (especially with pre-teens) that they are not to delete conversations or be secretive. If they truly want privacy, they should call their friend or discuss things when they are face to face. As a bonus, this eliminates misinterpretation of text messages – an every day occurrence.
Does my child understand that having a phone doesn’t give friends and family an open line of communication twenty-four hours a day? Something I see frequently in families with pre-teens/young teens, is the inability to understand why they DO NOT have to answer their phone or a text message immediately. If one of their friends is reacting negatively to not being answered right away, it’s time for your son or daughter to have a discussion with their friend explaining that they are not always available and will get back to them when they are. Therefore, this is an important discussion for you to have with your child before the phone is activated. Confirm how they will handle “that friend” if the need arises and their confidence level to do so with their peers.
Does my child understand the legal, and potentially deadly ramifications of texting and driving? This one speaks for itself. Discuss and agree that they will never text and drive, and the consequences for doing so.
A few other things to keep in mind: Consider whether there is really a need and a benefit to your child having a cell phone. Purchase a basic phone to keep costs down and set limits about social media, calls, and texting. If the phone is for safety and to keep in touch, then being able to surf the internet or download Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat is completely unnecessary, especially for younger children.
And finally, it’s a great idea to write up a contract (there is a terrific example here: http://tweenparenting.about.com/od/tweenculture/a/Parent-Child-Cell-Phone-Contracts.htm) and set up consequences for contract breaking.