He figured out how to text.
Silly parents, we thought we had years of innocent childhood left to go with this one before he hit Cell Phone Mania. We fought long and hard against the cultural mandate for kids to have cell phones. Teen may truly have been the last kid in his middle school to get a phone. He turned 14 mid-way through 8th grade and received a cell phone for his birthday.
Tween, still in elementary school, was given an iPhone 5 minus the sim card when friends upgraded their phones. Which means it’s not really a phone, right?, essentially the equivalent of an iPod Touch. He can play music and games but that’s about it. Right?
Naive parents! It didn’t take long for Tween, so much more computer savvy than his parents, to figure out that certain apps allowed him to communicate with his friends who also used those apps – the app equivalent of texting.
The apps were all linked to Guy’s email account, which meant that every time Tween got a message – or worse, a Facetime call – it came to Guy’s cell phone as well. That got old quick.
So now Tween has his own gmail account as well. He’s silly excited about this fantastic new development in his social life. Even when he doesn’t have his phone in hand, he wants to talk to his parents about how much fun it is. While we love that he wants to talk to us, he wore out that particular topic almost as soon as it came up (in part because the grown ups are still a little stunned that we fumbled our way down this length of the field, and about three years earlier than intended). He replied, “What? I am new to the wonders of iMessage!”
So what’s a parent to do? We recommend having a plan, even if you put it in place retroactively.
Stage 1: We have worked hard to establish relational dominance over technology by implementing a No Screen Time rule Sunday dinner through Friday after school. No TV, no movies, no computer games on any device. Why? Because we want to allow our kids adequate time to get their homework done and then get bored, which encourages creativity. They can read a book, take the dog for a walk, shoot hoops in the cul-de-sac, paint or draw, build something, play with the too-many toys in their rooms, go for a hike in the open space, maybe even play with a friend.
Of course there are exceptions, the occasional family movie night, or when the parents have an evening obligation the kids might have some screen time once their responsibilities have been taken care of.
If you’re a parent of teens, you know it would be impractical to remove Teen’s cell phone from him just because we have a No Screen Time rule. He uses it as a tool to get done all that needs doing in his life. However, as Tween’s phone is for entertainment purposes, Tween does not have a phone Sunday through Friday. His friends can call him on our land line if they need him.
Stage 2: The Cell Phone Rules. I found these online, maybe an article posted on Facebook, some years back just before we gave Teen his cell phone. I don’t think they were original to that mom, either, and she definitely gave permission to tweak the rules to suit the family/child, which I did. We posted these in Teen’s room and talked about them often – we still do. He doesn’t follow them perfectly and we have definitely taken the phone away for periods of time. And while some of the rules may sound shocking, we absolutely encourage up-front honesty and conversation – better to talk about and avoid certain situations than have to deal with the fall-out later.
The Cell Phone Rules
- It is our phone. We bought it. We pay for it. We are loaning it to you. Aren’t we great?
- We will always know the password.
- If it rings, answer it. Say hello, use your manners. Never ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.”
- Hand the phone to one of your parents before bed every night.
- If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.
- Put it away in public (for example, in church, restaurants, or movie theaters, wherever you are with other people). You are not rude; do not allow your phone to change that.
- Do not use your phone to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first.
- Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
- No porn. Nothing you wouldn’t want your mother to see.
- Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Despite your intelligence, someday you might be tempted to do this. It is risky and could ruin your life.
- Take pictures, but don’t forget to live your experiences. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk.
- Leave your phone home sometimes and be okay with that decision. Learn to live without it.
- Download music that is new or classic or different than your peers. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.
- Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.
- You will mess up. We will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We will always be learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.
By the way, the grown ups in our home try to live by these rules, too. Technology has changed our world in fairly obvious ways, and cell phones have caused generally kind human beings to act in obnoxious ways. We want to model for our kids good relationships and healthy use of technology. We mess up, too, but that’s all part of the ongoing conversation.