Only 12 percent of children ages 13 to 17 don’t have (or have access to) a cell phone, according to the Pew Research Center.
Whoa! That means more kids than not either have their own mobile phone or have access to mom and dad’s. If your child is begging for a phone, they’re not exactly alone. When you decide to bring on the cell you also need to start setting some serious rules. Ah, rule-making – easier said than done. You know your kiddo needs them. But, you may not feel completely comfortable with the how’s of setting cell phone rules. That’s okay. Plenty of parents (pretty much all of them) don’t know where to begin. After all, cell phones weren’t a thing when most moms and dads were young (unless you count the brick-like 80s version).
The more your child invests themselves in the rules, the more they’re likely to follow them. Instead of acting as the parent-dictator, have a family meeting – where everyone gets a say. So, you’re thinking, “Um, no. I make the rules. I’m the adult.” Well, technically you’re right. You are the one setting the rules. But, your child is also getting to discuss their thoughts and views on cell phone use.
Ask your child what they think the rules should be and why. The WHY is beyond important here. It gets to the heart of the matter and helps your child to think about the need for rules, how they work and what they do for everyone involved.
Any generality (seriously, even one that doesn’t seem like a big deal) is an open window for your child to flip the rule around. Even if your child is all about following whatever you say, general rules are confusing and might not set the same expectations that you want. Let’s say you only allow your child to use the smart phone for Internet use (this includes social media) for one hour a day. Does that mean your child can use it from 3 p.m. to 3:30 and then again from 8 to 8:30? Or, does she need to use it all at one time? Can she use it during her lunch break at school? Is it okay for her to browse online at the dinner table (probably not)? In this case, you’d set specific hours or time blocks (such as between the time she gets home from school and gets ready to go to soccer practice).
Provide Clear Consequences
What happens if your eighth grader sneaks her smart phone into her room and texts until 11 (when she’s not allowed to use it after 8 p.m.)? The rules can’t stand alone. Set clear consequences at the same time. Create consequences that match the ‘crime’. Ask yourself, “Is this fair?” before going too far. Like the rules, your child can participate in the consequences discussion.
Ninety percent of teens with cell phones text their friends, notes the Pew Research Center. Telling your tenth grader that she absolutely positively can’t text her friends probably isn’t realistic. It’s likely that her friends will text her, and she’ll respond. Talk to your child about what they want to use their cell phone for. Consider the requests in the frame of what is typical or expected for a child of their age (and what is age appropriate). While a 10-year-old isn’t going to use a smart phone to post on Facebook, a 17-year-old might.
Crowd Source It
You’re confused. There’s no shame in that. Parenting is never easy. Remember when you had to buy diapers and you couldn’t figure out which of the 3,000 brands was the best? What did you do? You asked your mommy- and daddy-friends. Do the same now. No, you don’t have to completely copy your BFF’s rules for her kids. But, you can take what’s generally accepted (by several different parents) and put it together into your own version of cell phone rules.
Public vs. Private
Sometime, decades ago, you wrote gossip-packed notes to your best friends and folded them into awesome origami packages. What would you have done if your mom had snooped and read your notes? Your child feels the same way when you read her texts, emails or checks her phone’s call log. Okay, so older kids (teens) need privacy. But, that doesn’t mean they get complete freedom. After all, they still need parental guidance. When you start setting the rules, talk about what on the phone your child can keep private and what you can review.
You’ve scanned nothing short of six dozen cell phone rule lists that you ‘should’ use. Even though most of the points on the lists seem reasonable, they don’t entirely connect to your family’s values or your parenting style. Not all families share the same beliefs when it comes to raising kids and rules. Some parents feel giving children the freedom to learn for themselves is absolutely essential, while others are much more into enforcing and overseeing.
You want your child to use their phone safely, and you also want it to match up with your own technology and communication use beliefs. When setting cell phone rules never override your own values just because someone else tells you to.