Is your child ready for a cell phone?

Many of the concerns related to cell phones have a familiar ring (I feel very, very ashamed of that pun). This is a new battle, but it is an old battleground. Alexander Graham Bell’s children were probably queuing to use his new phone even before the solder was cool. After 137 years, the phone has not destroyed the family, so we will no doubt learn to cope with the new dimensions cell phones and texting bring.

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The basic concerns are actually even older than telephones

Who is my child mixing with and being influenced by? Are their social skills and values robust enough to handle peer pressure? Are they being safe and appropriate in their unsupervised activities? They are the same concerns we have when they are playing out of sight in the playground – cell phones are just a new playground. Good discipline that leads to internal discipline, coupled with ongoing good relationships, are the real keys, not banning cell phones.

You can and should set some limits around cell phone use

Let them know that even if they buy the phone and pay the bills themselves (as I think they should), its use is still subject to your house rules. Reasonable rules would include phones off at mealtimes and after 9pm. Consider a ‘charger basket’ where everyone’s phones go at night. Let them know that cell phones (and internet use) are a privilege, not a right – that privileges come from trust and trust comes from transparency. Therefore, you reserve the right to review their inbox, outbox and address book.

Hypocrisy will nullify any message we give

Perhaps from an early age they have seen us suffering from ‘curly cord fever’ rushing from the table or abandoning a bedtime story just to answer the phone. We need to remind ourselves that, unless you are a doctor or fire fighter, you are unlikely to get more than three or four vital life-or-death super urgent calls in a lifetime.

Our children will be far more able to switch their phones off if they observe us letting a call divert to voicemail during a mealtime. You can show that real relationships are more important than virtual ones by leaving the phone behind or turning it off when you go for a coffee, a walk, or to a sports event with them. Show that you can have tech-free moments in your busy life. I struggle, and shake slightly, but even I can manage it.

Responsible phone ownership means paying for costs

Costs are not just limited to calls and texts. Most children want to buy ringtones and other add-on services. If you require your children to have a phone for safety, then be prepared to pay for a basic plan, or some prepaid credit, but kids should pay for all the ‘extras’. Are they too young to do that? Then they are too young. Is the phone they are getting able to connect to the internet? The extra costs, plus the possibility of unsupervised internet access, means this is not a good idea for younger kids.

Questions to ask both yourself and your kids

  • Are they mature enough to look after an expensive item?
  • Are they prepared to accept their school’s rules on phones?

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About Author

John Cowan

Writer, speaker and broadcaster, John Cowan shares his insight and opinions about the latest in parenting and family news in New Zealand. Hear John speak on radio stations every week throughout the country and regularly on national TV.  Follow @JohnCowanNZ on Twitter

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