You got your child a cell phone.
Congratulations! You’ve made a momentous decision that will impact multiple lives including those of individuals who you have never met. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy choice to make. It took a lot of careful consideration of your circumstances, your child’s maturity level, and any number of other factors.
I was there a year ago. My oldest daughter was 11 and had just taken a babysitting certification course. The job offers were pouring in — okay, maybe it was more of a trickle. Still, one of our neighbors had asked if my daughter would watch her daughter. Up until that point, my daughter had been using an iPod to send me messages, but it was only useful when she had wifi. If she wasn’t at home or somewhere else where she could access the network, she was out of luck. With her babysitting, I became concerned she might need to contact me or her father, and I know not every home has a landline anymore.
Getting my daughter a cell phone definitely wasn’t a decision we came to lightly.
My daughter’s father and I didn’t agree whether she was ready for the responsibility that came with having her own cell phone. We did both agree, however, that we’d feel much better knowing she had a way to communicate with us, regardless of whether or not she had wifi. With that knowledge outweighing the potential risks of someone so young having potentially unfettered access to the digital universe, we took a deep breath and dove in.
So, if you’re where we were last year, you might be thinking to yourself: now what? How do we let our child have this new freedom and still ensure that she’ll stay safe? There’s obviously a level of trust involved, between your child and yourself. Only you can know for sure that you’ve given your child the tools to handle so huge a responsibility.
But there are a few more steps that you can take to ensure that your relationship with your child’s cell phone is a happy and supportive one.
Check your carrier and plan for any safeguards available that can be implemented for plan members under 18.
This seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s an easy and quick step that can be done even before you come to the final decision. It may even be the thing that will tip the balance in one direction or the other. Most cell phone carriers offer a number of different ways to keep tabs on your kids’ cell phone use, and you can usually customize them to your preferences. Some of these things include: notifications to the plan owner if the phone contacted or was contacted by an unknown number; the ability to block access to certain websites or apps (looking at you, social media); and weekly updates of all usage undertaken by the phone in question.
There are also a number of apps that can help monitor your child’s location, internet usage, calls, and text messages. Programs like Parental Control App Blocker, Kidslox, and SaferKid can let you choose the level of control you have over your child’s digital activities.
Set up a time for a family meeting where cell phone rules and expectations are discussed and clearly understood.
Again, another obvious tip, but it’s something that should be done before the cell phone is in the hands of the child who will be using it. This is an amazing opportunity for your child to prove to you that he or she has absorbed all of your lessons. The conversation shouldn’t be one-sided; your child has valuable insight to offer that will help the rules be easier for him or her to follow. Consider something like a written contract, where the expectations and consequences are clearly stated and all parties have signed their agreement. Then STICK TO IT.
Establish the understanding that your child’s cell phone is really yours, and that you have unlimited access to it at any time you request.
Passwords need to be shared with you, and you have the right to ask for random phone checks at your discretion. It needs to be made absolutely clear to everyone that this is not a negotiable expectation, and that it’s put in place to keep your kiddo safe. We all know what social media and the internet can be like.
Make sure the expectations are clear with your child about how they reply to you.
If you expect your child to text you back within a certain amount of time before you start to freak out, make that clear. Again, this is an opportunity for negotiation, and it’s important to be realistic. If your child is at school and there’s a no cell phone policy, it’s understandable that you shouldn’t expect your child to reply. But if he or she is out with friends, the response time should be shorter.
Reward responsible cell phone behavior.
This can take many forms and doesn’t necessarily have to be cell phone related. Things like lighter restrictions and fewer cell phone checks are worth considering. Other ideas can involve a free pass on any chores; privileges like sleepovers or special occasions with friends and family; or even an increase in allowance if it’s appropriate. Rewarding good behavior assures that said behavior is likely to continue. As a parent, I really prefer rewarding good behavior, and yet don’t always remember this step.