Do your kids use their cellphones too much? Many parents believe their children are addicted to their smartphones and other mobile devices, and at least half of those same kids agree. But when it comes to setting a positive example, parents aren't doing such a great job.
According to a recent report from Common Sense Media, 78 percent of teens check their devices at least once an hour, while 69 percent of parents do the same. Parents aren't quite as preoccupied with replying to text messages and other digital communication though. More than 70 percent of teens feel the need to respond immediately, contrasted with less than 50 percent of parents.
The good news is that many device users are concerned about these habits. About half the parents surveyed, as well as one-third of the teens, report making a regular effort to reduce the amount of time they spend on their mobile devices.
So how can you be smart about cellphone use when it comes to your kids? Here are tips and advice from parents who have been in your shoes and have found what works for them:
Cellphone Parking Lot
Our tweens recently complained about how their friends were on their cellphones during the whole movie night at our home. So I created a "cellphone parking lot" that kids have to pass on their way downstairs. I made parking spaces out of colorful tape. They had to "park" their phones, which they thought was a cool idea. I monitored the phones in case parents called, and the kids enjoyed some phone-free fun together.
If you plan to buy your child a cellphone, consider implementing these guidelines before you activate it:
Usage. A young child should only be allowed to use a cellphone for emergencies. For a 9- to 12- year-old, increase minutes for each year of age and set nighttime boundaries by placing the phone in a desk drawer or charging it in a central location in your house. This keeps your child from staying up late because he or she is talking to friends.
Texting. The anonymity of texting often encourages inappropriate communication — text and photo. Either monitor text messaging with your carrier’s online software or wait until your child has shown responsibility before you add texting to the phone.
Quiet zones. Create quiet zones by putting phones away during meals, family games and time with friends.
Responsibility. Most plans allow subscribers to check on a specific phone number in the plan. Set limits on minutes and the number of text messages, and routinely review your child’s usage. Reward your child for responsibly managing minutes and texts by gradually increasing his or her usage.
—Elsa Kok Colopy
Cellphone Ground Rules
While many of my son's friends got phones at age 8 or 9, I decided to wait a little longer before launching my son into the world of cellphones. The few extra years of waiting provided two advantages. First, it allowed us to watch and learn from his friends' choices — successes and mistakes. Second, it cemented the reality that, in our family, privilege comes with responsibility. Having a cellphone requires a demonstration of maturity and responsibility. I also set up some ground rules so that expectations were clear from the start:
- Only non-smartphones are allowed. This enables my son to take pictures, call and text, but not access the Internet via his phone.
- Mom and Dad always have the right to monitor and limit usage. My husband and I check messages regularly and spontaneously, both on the phone and through online account access (where we can see deleted messages and what time messages were sent). This helps us keep tabs on his use of the phone and ensures nothing inappropriate is being sent or received.
- Cellphones are never allowed at the table during meals.
- The phone is turned off and charged every night in the family room to make sure texting and calling do not happen during homework or after bedtime.
Sunday on the Phone
Sundays should have a different rhythm than other days, so my husband and I explored ideas to promote family-centered activities. We chose to limit our children's phone calls on Sundays to relatives.
Unwilling to discontinue all phone use, our daughter reluctantly began short chats with her great-grandmother, grandparents and even great aunts and uncles. Slowly, we noticed her attitude and the length of her conversations change. She seemed to look forward to Sunday afternoons. Her dinner conversation also changed to include family news, information from her elders' latest doctor visits and "real" stories and details of the Depression, World War II and the thrill someone had at buying a color television set or seeing a man walk on the moon.
Although we were trying to honor a day of rest by changing the pace of our Sundays, God changed our family and made our lives richer because of our daughter's phone calls.
Years ago, when Emily Post wrote her rules for manners, there was no need for a chapter on cell phone etiquette. Times and technology have changed, and we are in desperate need of guidelines for those pesky little communication devices. The constant singing of cellphones at inappropriate times and in unprecedented locations is now the norm. Many adults are as guilty of cellphone rudeness as their teens, so perhaps we all need a crash course in communication manners.
Respect. The most inappropriate cellphone interruption I've ever witnessed occurred at the graveside funeral service of a 40-year-old cancer victim. A man's phone blared the 1812 Overture, not once, but three times during the 20-minute service. There are places where cellphones need to be absent or silent. Church is another example. Cellphone conversations and text messaging are inappropriate and disrespectful.
Responsibility. When in a car, drivers should place priority on safety, navigation and following traffic rules. When at a wedding or outdoor concert, participants are responsible for letting the crowd's attention remain focused on things other than chirping cellphones. Kids need to know they have social responsibilities at public functions that outweigh their need to receive news tidbits from friends.
Reconnection. I tried to have lunch with my daughter a few weeks ago but quickly realized I was eating alone when she fielded calls from friends and business associates. Face-to-face meetings suffer when electronic interaction happens simultaneously. Kids should be aware that when they are with someone, they should not be taking calls from others.
Many things in life seem urgent that really aren't. Encourage your children to turn off their cellphone occasionally, in order to be considerate to others.