After months of begging, pleading, whining and jostling on the part of your teenager, you finally succumbed and bought him a cell phone. While he’s squealing with excitement over his new mobile marvel, you’re faced with a flurry of new anxieties related to its pervasive communication capabilities and, consequently, its potential for trouble. To ease your worries, you’ll want to teach your teen that the phone in his possession is an adult responsibility -- and that it comes with a whole set of ground rules.
First Things First
Chances are, as soon as you hand that smartphone over to your child, he’s going to want to retreat to the privacy of his room to begin texting, downloading and surfing at warp speed. Before you allow this to happen, however, sit him down for a discussion. Let him know that just because the phone is in his possession 99.9 percent of the day, it still belongs to you. That being said, inform him that you will have the right to examine it or even take it from him at any point if you suspect misuse or should he choose to violate any of the rules you’ve established for its use. Stress -- repeatedly -- the use of common sense when it comes to texting and the sharing of private images and information.
Of course, your teen is probably chomping at the chance to take his phone to school to show it to his buddies. However, before he shoves it into his backpack and heads out the door, be sure to talk to him about his school’s cell phone policy. Does the school allow electronic devices on campus? If so, are they allowed to be turned on? If they are allowed to be turned on, what are the rules for classroom use, or use throughout the day? The last thing you want is a phone call from the principal stating that your kid was caught texting during a test. Emphasize common sense here, and stress consequences both at home and at school: some school districts will confiscate phones for a period of time if students are caught using them without permission. Let him know that if abuses the rules at school, he’ll also suffer consequences -- such as a few more days or weeks of no cell phone use -- at home.
Unless you want dinnertime to equate to 40 minutes of your teenager staring at a flickering 3-inch screen, ban the use of phones – and that means yours, too, Mom and Dad -- during dinner. Dinnertime is often the only time that families get to sit down together and talk without interruption. As such, let your kiddo know that it's not the time to be updating his social media status, making weekend plans or getting to the next level of his bird-catapulting game.
It’s hard enough for a parent to get used to her child being able to fly solo behind the wheel of a car. Add a cell phone to the mix, and it can be downright terrifying. According to DoSomething.org, nearly 90 percent of teenagers admit to “multitasking” -- including using a cell phone -- while driving, and 75 percent admit to texting while behind the wheel. The solution? First, kids learn by example, no matter what age they are. If you don’t want your child to use his cell phone while he’s driving, then you shouldn’t either. Second, talk with your child about the dangers of cell phone use while driving. Third, consider installing an app or computer program on your child’s phone. These programs work by disabling the phone’s features when motion is detected, while still allowing for emergency phone calls to 911 or parents.
Remember when you were a teenager, and your friends knew not to call your house past a certain time, lest you get in trouble? That’s no longer the case. Cell phones allow teenagers to bypass all of those parental no-phone-use-past-your-bedtime requirements. Give your teenager unrestrained access to his device at night, and he’ll likely use it in an unrestrained fashion. After all, who wants to concentrate on homework or sleeping when friends are in full-on crisis modes over prom dates and football tryouts? During the school week, when he heads to bed, have him hand his phone over to you. Charge it in your room overnight, and then give it back in the morning. As he matures and proves to you that he can handle owning the cell phone, you can allow him a little more flexibility and leeway.