Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Four Rules for Cell Phone Use by Kids

There is much debate these days among professionals and parents about the “right” age for youngsters to begin carrying a cell phone. From “safety” to “convenience” and even the not-to-be-dismissed “fitting in with peers” arguments, what follows are four basic guidelines parents may want to consider, to set the tone for their kids’ “ethical” cell phone use:

1. Set Clear Guidelines on Usage
The most common reason cited by parents for giving their child a cell phone (or everyday use of one) is safety. Parents want to be able to get in touch with their kids at any point in the day and also want to be accessible when their kids need to initiate contact. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of young people want cell phones in order to call and text their peers. When allowing a child to use a cell phone, be sure to set clear usage guidelines. Don’t think it overkill to put the rules in writing! Consider the specifics that are right for your family, in terms of:
  • Who your child is allowed to call?
  • How many minutes is he allowed to use each month?
  • Is your child permitted to text? How many texts can be sent per day/week/month?
  • Who pays the monthly cell phone bill?
  • What are the consequences for violating the agreed upon guidelines?
2. Set Clear Guidelines on Etiquette
When the internet first became a powerful force in the lives of kids, the term “netiquette” was coined to describe ethical ways to interact while online. Though no equivalent phrase has yet emerged for cell phone use (cell-iquette??), it is important to talk to kids about how to treat others while texting. For example:
  • Would I say the words I am texting to a person’s face?
  • What would my parents think if they read this text?
  • Could this photo I am sending cause hurt or embarrassment to me, my friends, my family, or anyone else?
  • Can my text be taken out of context and used to hurt me or someone else?
Cell phones are a prime tool of bullying and relational aggression among young people, so being clear that texts and phone calls are not to be used as tools of gossip, exclusion, embarrassment, etc. is essential.

3. Privacy Guidelines
Parents are advised to let their kids know that they maintain the right to access their child’s cell phones at any time. While all parents want to trust their children, cell phones are such tempting tools for kids to engage in risky behavior that it is important for parents to let their kids know upfront that they will be reading texts, reviewing MMS messages, scrutinizing monthly bills, and engaging in any other kind of oversight that underscores the importance of ethical cell phone usage by kids.

4. Know the Lingo
Are you familiar with these text-friendly acronyms?
  • LOL
  • JK
  • BRB
  • ATM
Texting has a language all of its own. Laugh out Loud (LOL), Just Kidding (JK), and Be Right Back (BRB) are common enough, but while most parents take for granted that ATM stands for an Automatic Teller Machine, kids can tell you that it is more likely to refer to their being “at the mall.” The more parents educate themselves about the lingo their kids are using, the better able they are to monitor cell phone use and abuse.

What are your opinions on this subject?

Post by Signe Whitson, LSW. She has over 10 years of experience working with children and familes. You can visit her blog and read more helpful relationship advice. Signe also contributes to My Baby Clothes Boutique where you can find adorable baby clothes, tutus and baby headbands.

Photo Credit Andrea Kennard

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