“Can I have a cellphone?”
As a parent of a teen or tween, you may have been dreading the moment your child will plead for a cellphone. You’ll be tempted to say no, as giving them a phone could mean exposing them to dangers, technological addiction, sexting, and other issues. But they will easily reason out that, “Everybody has a smartphone, so why can’t I have one?” For once, they're right: 88% of teens already own one and a whopping 92% are already online every day.
Cellphones have evolved into smartphones and are now an extremely powerful tool for media consumption. While you may be reluctant to give them access to a smartphone, most parents feel safer knowing that they can call their kids anytime on their phones or even track them via GPS.
So if you really have to let your teen get hold of a smartphone, don’t worry, you can still be in control. You can put restrictions in place and setup safety practices for smartphone usage. Here’s what we recommend:
Limit data usage
Consider getting a cellphone plan that only allows talk and text. Delay the option of adding data or have one that has limited data for light web browsing until you’re sure your child can handle the responsibility of internet access.
Prepare a cellphone contract
How can you convey your rules for cellphone usage without coming across as nagging? Put them all into writing and draft a cellphone contract. Include all usage guidelines, etiquette, and a list of all consequences if a rule is compromised. Print this contract out and provide a space below where you and your child can affix your signatures. Let them know, through this contract, that you are giving them the privilege to own a phone, and they, in turn, should agree to follow your rules.
Be a model smartphone user
Be the kind of gadget user you want your kids to be. If you are constantly on your iPhone or iPad, expect your child to fall into the same usage pattern. Set a time limit for smartphone usage, where you text, talk or browse the web only for, say, 1 hour a day. Or have a gadget box in one corner of your house, where everyone in the family should deposit their smartphones before dinner time, while doing homework or some chores, or before getting into bed. Block websites you don’t want your kids to have access to and make it a point to not access these sites while you’re at home, too. Refrain from answering unknown and unsolicited calls and text messages if you can.
Explain the dangers
Your kids belong in the same era as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. So like it or not, they will always be inseparable with technology. Installing blocking apps are a great idea, but you can’t rely on them entirely. When it comes to safety, nothing is more powerful than a good pep talk. Sit down and explain to them why you have to block certain sites. Why are these sites dangerous? What is cyberbullying? Why should you be careful with your personal information? This will help them understand the dangers and appreciate your efforts more.
Your best defense against cellphone dangers is really not some sleek, shiny security app. It’s communication. You’d want your kids to be honest with you and feel like they can talk to you about anything—their problems, their issues at school, their troubles with friends, etc. You’d want to be the first person they run to when they find themselves in a problematic situation. Trust doesn’t happen instantly; you have to build it up by constantly communicating and being honest with each other. Ease them into a healthy discussion about their cellphone usage while at the dinner table or in the car. Use the cellphone to send them positive messages or words of encouragement. Call them to make sure they’re safe. This way, your children will be comfortable coming to you when they’re in a tight situation.
Whether we like it or not, technology will always be a big part of your children’s lives. While we accept and embrace what cellphones have become in our lives, it is important to teach our kids how to make use of these devices in the most responsible way and keep them away from the dangers.
Have you got any other tips to share? Let us know!