There are reasons we parents put cell phones into our children’s hands, namely so that we can reach them and they can reach us, almost like a far-reaching personal walkie-talkie system. If we can find them—and they can find us—we feel much safer letting them go off.
Some parents, the ones doling out the small machines with an initial rule about “only in emergencies or to let us know where you are” may be quite surprised some month to open a whopping bill. Texting costs money, especially when your plan does not include x-number of texts. The typical teen doesn’t just send a text; s/he sends about 50 a day, or 1500 text messages a month.
How do teens text?
Research shows that teenagers send texts to say hello, to ask about homework or a meeting place—and to let parents know whether they will be home for dinner. For many teens, the text has replaced the long phone cord we snaked under our bedroom doors in order to have private conversations with our peers. Writer Carlo Rotella wonders about the kind of privacy cell phones allow teens, and questions the safety they bring in a Boston Globe editorial:
“There’s a lot of anxious discussion about kids not having enough privacy in an increasingly electronic world, but I’m talking about something else: too much of the wrong kind of privacy. When I see that girl on Tappan Street hunched over her screen in the way that phone ads urge us to regard as enviably connected, I see a child learning the wrong kind of aloneness from a teaching machine. Her posture is the very antithesis of streetwise — unaware, in-turned, refusing to observe and engage. And yet, paradoxically, as she short-circuits introspection with electronic noise, she’s also avoiding the kind of alert, ruminative solitude that might do her some good at the start of a school day.”
Your teen’s cell phone use
As summer begins, and with it your teens may have more time on their hands and may have friends far away or themselves be far away, how do you set some limits about the phone, the one you very likely gave them in the first place?
A report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project says that limits by parents aren’t all that effective: “Generally speaking, there is relatively little correlation between parental interventions on cell phone use and behavioral outcomes on the part of teens.”
Interventions may not be the most effective route to work out cell phone use with your teen. So much of what we know about teens—and about parenting—goes back to this one tenet: you must sit down and talk with them about what’s on your mind. This includes cell phone use. Sending a text will not do the job. And you must be role model for how you want them to behave with their cell phones.
I have a few simple rules that my teens know I care about and for the most part, follow:
- No texting at the dinner table, whether at home or in a restaurant.
- No texting while driving.
- No texting during class.