Teaching Responsible Cell Phone Use
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As a parent educator and the mother of 3 children, I’ve been very cautious in my children’s cell phone use. It’s important for parents to be purposeful and thoughtful about our children’s cell phone use. We may give our infants toy cell phones and toy keys to play with but that doesn’t mean we just give them a cell phone and car to play with at age 12, age 10 or age 8. As parents, we need to invest the time and effort in teaching responsible cell phone use and encouraging that responsibility. These 7 tips have helped guide our family in this difficult but critical process.
Our family has chosen to wait to give our children cell phones until they’re in 7th or 8th grade depending on their school and activities schedule. When we do give our children their first cell phone, we limit and monitor its use until we feel that they’re ready for more freedom. I’m happy to report that with a 19-year-old and a 16-year-old with cell phones, we’ve seen mostly very responsible cell phone behavior. A couple of months ago, my 19-year-old even double checked with me when my friend texted and asked for my daughter’s street address (to mail her a care package) because my daughter wasn’t sure who was texting her and asking for her address at college.
Teaching Responsible Cell Phone Use
These are 7 guidelines that our family follows concerning our cell phone use.
1. There’s no rush. Children do not need everything an adult has and just because my child’s friend got a smart phone in third grade doesn’t mean we have to get one for our child. I wouldn’t give my third grader a car to drive, so I don’t have to give them a cell phone until I feel they need one and are responsible enough to have one. Remember, no really dies just because they want a cell phone and don’t have one.
2. Cell phone use is a privilege not a right. Before our children get a cell phone, we need to have a demonstrable need for it and our child needs to show that they are responsible enough for their first cell phone. They also are required to show continued responsibility to maintain their cell phone use. Again, don’t believe the desperate dramatic pleas, no one will actually die without access to a cell phone.
3. Start slowly when you do give your child their first cell phone. We don’t feel the need to give our children full access to talk, texting and the web on their first cell phone. We start them slowly with limited access and slowly add more access. It’s similar to learning to drive We don’t just give our children unlimited access to a car when they turn 16 and we don’t just give them unlimited access to a cell phone.
4. Be an involved parent. We let our children know that we will be monitoring their cell phone use until they prove that they are responsible. And if they have an incident later of irresponsible use, then well will start monitoring them more closely until they prove themselves again. As much as I don’t like technology, I am on the social platforms my children use and I follow them. I periodically check their phone use and the times of day they’re using it. My children are not allowed to have their cell phones in their bedrooms after 9pm until they’re 16 years old and only if they’re responsible with its use. This restriction helps them learn to be responsible with their cell phone.
5. Talk with and listen to your child. It’s important to discuss different situations that can arise with cell phone use and problem solve solutions. As the parents, we clearly established our family’s boundaries, but we also make time to really listen to our children so we can understand their unique situations. We try to ask open-ended questions and problem solve how to handle different scenarios with our children. I think of it as driver’s education for the phone.
6. Teach your child self-control. We teach our children that you need to stop and think before you act in life and especially on a cell phone. Teens tend to be impulsive. Once you’ve sent that text, that photo or that online post, you can’t get it back. If you say something to someone in person and it’s comes out wrong or is misunderstood, you usually have the opportunity to clarify or apologize. But you often don’t have that opportunity with what you send out from your cell phone. We try to teach our children not to be impulsive with their cell phone, but to stop and think before they hit send. We also stress that you don’t have to respond just because someone said something. Often the best choice is to ignore or wait to respond.
7. Teach your child that behavior has consequences. We don’t want to scare our children, but we also work to teach them that every behavior has a consequence. They need to think through and consider what the consequence may be each time they use their cell phone. Teens think they’re invincible and it’s our responsibility as parents to help them think through potential consequences and weigh those choices. We try to teach our children that with cell phone use it’s rarely wrong to wait and think before you cant.
As a long time Virgin Mobile customer, I’ve been pleased to learn that Virgin Mobile is making it easier for parents to teach their children responsible cell phone use with the new Virgin Mobile Custom plan. The biggest reason I switched to Virgin Mobile 4 years ago is because I am able to tailor the service I want without being locked into a contract. Call me a rebel, but I like the freedom of determining my monthly bill based on my cell phone usage needs not on what the contract gives me. It’s a prepaid plan, so I can cancel at anytime that I want to, not when the contract says I can. You can find the Virgin Mobile Custom devices exclusively at Walmart (select stores and at Walmart.com). They have several smart phones to choose from. I was fortunate to be able to test the LG Pulse. From the moment you turn on the phone to activate it, you have access to parental controls to make the plan and phone work for your child. This will be my son’s phone to use when he goes to practices and school activities, so I was able to restrict the access to limited talk and text. Plans start as low as $6.98 a month, but I really like that you can tailor the plan to your own specific needs. You can also change the specifics of your plan at anytime. The plan I set up for my son has 20 talk minutes and 250 texts per month and only cost $9.48 a month + taxes. Be sure to check the cost of the plan as you increase the areas of access to make sure that your plan remains as cost effective as the lower end of access is. In the 4 years I’ve been with Virgin Mobile, I’ve appreciated the flexibility and cost savings of a monthly plan (you’re not locked into a contract) and the coverage is the same as the Sprint network so I’ve been able to use my phone all over the country, including in Hawai’i.
In addition to being able to design the plan that works best for your child, you also have access to parental controls that allow you to choose which apps can work on your child’s phone and when, including what time of day the apps can be accessed by your child. This means you can say no to Facebook or YouTube on school days or after 9pm, for example. You can also limit who can text or call your child and when. They will always be able to contact 911 and you can set the controls that they can always reach you or whoever you choose, like grandma and grandpa. These parental controls are a great tool for parents to use in teaching responsible cell phone use.
You can learn more at the Virgin Mobile Custom website, on this Virgin Mobile Custom Youtube video, on Facebook and Twitter. I was happy to learn that I can download a free app to my existing phone to manage any Virgin Mobile Custom devices I purchase for my children and users can share up to 5 lines.
What tips do you have for teaching responsible cell phone use?
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I’m a mom of 3, a veteran and military spouse. I’ve moved into 20+ homes all around the world. My passion is helping busy people make the space and time for what’s really important to them.
Hi Susan – Great article and great tips! We had to start with the cell phone in 5th grade due to being a two-household home. It’s a scary world out there with everything our kids have to deal with and can get their hands on. Thanks for sharing a path of communication. Hugs, Holly
Holly, I’m with you that a cell phone for your stepson is a necessity for your family. It is a scary world, but hopefully we’re both raising smart and responsible children.
Well written post with great tips. I think that children expect a lot when they are young and it is hard to not always give in. These tips help parents teach their children responsibility. VIrgin Mobil has a great plan.
Thanks, Cynthia. It can be tough to be the parent that is saying no, but I try to focus on the ultimate goals when I feel guilty.