It’s natural to worry when your child is ready for her first cell phone, even if you think he or she is generally responsible. Yes, this device is an instrument of connection, and it will allow you and your child to be more connected when you’re apart. But it’s also a symbol of separation, a reminder that your child is now spending enough time at a distance from you – and other supervising adults — to need it. Worse, it’s a harbinger of the dangers lurking in the outside world that threaten to pop up and menace your child at any time, without you there to stop them.
Unfortunately, the statistics around children and cell phone usage won’t help:
- Studies show that texting begins in the fifth grade, on average.
- Half of all kids admit they are addicted to their cell phones and worry that they use them too much. Their parents agree, and 36 percent of parents say they have daily arguments with their kids about their phones.
- Only 4 percent of parents believe their teens have ever texted while driving, while 45 percent of teens admit that they routinely text while driving.
- Only 11 percent of parents suspect their teens have ever sent, received or forwarded a sexual text, while 41 percent of teens admit they’ve done so.
The problem isn’t with kids today. In fact, the research shows that teens today are more responsible than previous generations. No, the problem is that smart phones pose new risks. Luckily, as a parent things can be done to decrease the risks around cell phone usage. Below we have listed a number of tips to help:
And while we can’t be there to have these conversations in your stead, we’re here to help protect you most all other risks faced by you and your family. For any insurance questions, you can always contact our office.
Cell Phone Tips
1. Don’t give your child a phone too early. If your child is with a trusted adult, he shouldn’t need a cell phone. It’s when kids start to walk to school by themselves, or otherwise are without supervision, that they need a cell phone for safety reasons. The younger your child when she gets the cell phone, the more you’re asking of her, because it will just be harder for her to act responsibly with it. Can you trust that she’ll follow your rules about which apps to download, for instance? How often does he lose things? Some parents give their younger child devices that are more limited than a smart phone, that can’t be used to go online, or to call anyone not authorized by the parent.
2. Agree to rules, before that first cell phone. Most parents think a “contract” with their child is unnecessary and silly. But a written agreement is a great way for your child to step into this new responsibility without you “over-parenting.” When that first cell phone comes with written rules and responsibilities in the form of a signed agreement, young people learn how to handle them responsibly. If you ask your kids what they think the rules should be, and negotiate until you’re happy, they will “own” those rules.
3. Use parental controls.There are parental control apps available for all phones, and iphone have built-in parental controls that can be enabled.
4. Build a foundation. Don’t just buy a cell phone, give a lecture, and hope for the best. Instead, see this as a year-long project. In the beginning, plan to talk with your child every single night about his mobile use that day. Review with him what calls and texts came in and out, what apps he used. Ask how it felt to him to use his phone. Did it change anything in his life to have those calls and texts come in? Were there any challenges as he considered how to respond? When you see a mean text from one friend about another one, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to ask him about social dynamics, listen to the dilemmas he’s facing, and coach him about how to handle these challenges.
5. Talk, and listen. At the dinner table, comment on news stories that involve cell phones, from sexting to dangerous apps to driving deaths. Ask questions about what your child thinks, and listen more. You might find, for instance that your teen thinks sending nude selfies via Snapchat is fine because the photo will self-destruct. But does your child realize that the receiver can take a screenshot, and that there are now apparently ways to subvert the auto-notification that should tell the sender a copy has been made? And does your child know that having a photo of an underage person on his cell phone is illegal?
Cell Phone Suggested Rules
1. Never write or forward a photo, or anything in a text, that you wouldn’t want forwarded to everyone in your school, your principal and your parents.
2. Always ask before you forward a text or photo.
3. Always ask before you take a photo or video.
4. Never post your cell phone number on Facebook, or broadcast it beyond your friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.)
5. Never broadcast your location except in a direct text to friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.) Don’t use location apps that post your location.
6. Never respond to numbers you don’t recognize.
7. If you receive an unsolicited text, that’s spam. Don’t click on it. Instead, tell your parents so they can report the problem and have the caller blocked.
8. Don’t download apps without your parents’ permission.
9. Set up your charging station in the living room so your phone is not in your room at night.
10. No cell phones at the dining room table.
11. No cell phones out of your backpack while you’re in class.
12. If you’re driving, turn off your cell phone and put it in a bag where you can’t reach it in the back seat. (Make sure you have directions before you start out.) Cars kill people.
13. Monitor your phone usage to prevent addiction. Our brains get a little rush of dopamine every time we interact with our phones, so every text you send or receive, every post or update, feels good. Why is that a problem? Because it can distract us from other things that are important but maybe not so immediately rewarding, like connecting with our families, doing our homework, and just thinking about life. To prevent addiction, make sure you block out time every day — like during dinner or homework — when the phone is off.