Teens and cell phones - sign a contract and stick to it
September 12, 2011By Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg and Susan FitzGerald
The decision to allow your child a cell phone is among the most consequential you'll make during adolescence. A cell phone will bring about fundamental changes that you and your child must prepare for. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)
Part two of eight.
Excerpted from the new book Letting Go with Love and Confidence.
The issue of when to allow your child a cell phone should not be determined by "everyone else has one."
This decision is among the most consequential ones you'll make during adolescence. A cell phone will bring about fundamental changes in your child's world and yours. It will change the way your child interacts with peers, expand his horizons in unforeseen ways, and alter your access into your child's world.
None of those changes is inherently bad, but you want to make sure your child, and you, are prepared.
You need to carefully consider any number of factors: safety (always first); your child's existing social and communication skills; the relationship between the two of you; and a slew of practical matters, such as who pays.
The goal is to minimize the many problems that can come with cell phones (including sky-high bills) so the technology enhances your adolescent's feelings of competence and control, rather than undercutting them.
On the most basic level, a child needs to have mastered sufficient communication skills in face-to-face conversations before starting to communicate with his fingertips. Kids must know how to look people in the eye, introduce themselves, and carry on a conversation.
You also need to take into consideration your child's temperament, because there's so much potential for abuse of cell phones.
Just as with computers, cell phones can exacerbate tendencies in kids who are impulsive or easily swayed, and that's especially true of texting, with its ability to elicit an immediate response.
Also, the seeming anonymity of cell phones leads to cyber-bullying. Adolescents will text things they wouldn't dream of saying to a person's face, and spreading mean comments or embarrassing photos might seem like a ticket to popularity.
Sexual predators are another concern, though in truth your adolescent is less likely to run into problems with a stranger than someone she knows. Before your adolescent starts texting away, you want to make sure she is involved in positive friendships and understands what constitutes a respectful relationship.
Making a contract
Write a parent-child contract that you agree upon before the phone arrives. Consider these points:
- Who is responsible for paying the monthly fee and any added costs?
- What about time limits? All phones should be off during dinner and at bedtime.
- Make it clear that cyber-bullying is not acceptable. If cyber-lies or cyber-gossip come across the airwaves, your child must turn the phone off and take a break.
- Set expectations on how you will monitor your child's phone use, as well as your expectations for how quickly she will respond to your calls.
- Spell out consequences for irresponsible phone behavior, but also stress that you want your child to come to you with concerns and call you in an emergency.
Discussion points: How did you decide if your child was ready for a cell phone? How do you keep tabs on your child's cell phone use?
—Excerpted with permission and edited from Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century (Avery, 2011).
In September and October, NewsWorks is presenting a series of eight excerpts from the new book, Letting Go with Love and Confidence. Here is a schedule for the rest of the series.
When is my child ready:
- Go to sleepovers? Thursday, Sept. 15
- Manage money? Monday, Sept. 19
- Go to the mall? Thursday, Sept. 22
- Stay out late or stretch a curfew? Monday, Sept. 26
How do I talk about:
- Success? Thursday, Sept. 29
- Sex? Monday, Oct. 3
During the month, the authors will also conduct several Web chats on NewsWorks.org. Check back for more information on dates and times.
Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., is a pediatrician and researcher specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Regularly voted a "Top Doc" by Philadelphia magazine, he also serves homeless and marginalized youth as the Director of Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. He talks around the country on the importance of cultivating resilience in children so that they can thrive in a complex world. He is an advisor to the U.S. military, providing strategies to help families cope with a loved one's deployment. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two teenage daughters.
Susan FitzGerald is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in children's health issues. A former staff writer and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she now works as an independent writer and editor and teaches health writing in the graduate Writing Studies Program at St. Joseph's University. She and her husband have three sons.