Many parents of teenagers can remember when it was the height of cool for a teenager to have their own home phone line in their bedroom, or perhaps a pager so their friends could contact them when they were out and about. Today’s teens have little interest in a house phone in any room, and many wouldn’t be able to pick a beeper out of a lineup — and why should they? They and their friends have devices that not only allow them to talk and send text messages, but that also put the entire internet — and a whole world of possible connections — into the palm of their hands.
Even schools are starting to embrace smartphone use.
There are good arguments for giving a teen a cell phone — it allows you to easily and quickly contact them, assures you that they’ll have a phone in an emergency, and helps them connect socially. Some schools are even incorporating smartphones and other digital devices into classroom work, instead of just banning them. But smartphones have some serious dangers and downsides too, and as a parent, you have to set boundaries to protect your teen. The following are some tips for doing just that.
Parents Should Always Have Access
A smartphone isn’t like a diary, where you could argue that you’re invading your child’s privacy if you snoop. Your teen’s photos and thoughts that are shared via text messages or almost any app aren’t just for them — they can be broadcast to the entire world. While most photos and tweets are innocuous, one moment of poor judgement can go viral and end up following your teen for life. And it’s worth remembering that your teen is always receiving, too, not just sending. That means they’re vulnerable to harassment and cyberbullying.
For all these reasons, it’s important that you know what is on your teen’s phone. The first rule of a teen having a cell phone should be that the parents always have access — you should know their passwords, and you shouldn’t allow any apps that lock you out. What’s more, you should use that access — knowing passwords is pointless if your teen knows you’re never going to take the time to look.
Never Ignore Mom And Dad
If their friends can reach them anytime and anywhere, you should be able to as well.
While it can be helpful to be able to call your teen whenever you need to touch base with them — and this is the justification that many parents give for allowing a smartphone — it’s less helpful if your teen refuses to pick the phone up when you call. Not answering removes one of the major benefits to you of letting them have a cell phone in the first place.
Make it a rule that when a parent’s number shows up on the caller ID screen, your teen has to answer or respond, no matter what. Make it fair by promising the same thing in return — if your teen calls you, you should always pick up or return the call quickly.
Set Time Limits
Figure out a reasonable time limit for phone use, either a number of hours in the day that they can use the phone, or a time at which they must stop using it, and enforce that time limit. If you decide that your teen’s phone should go off at dinner time, set up a charging station in a central location in the house — not their bedroom — and make sure the phone goes there when the time is up.
Hold yourself to the same standards that you hold your child to, if at all possible. Designate phone-free time for the whole family, where you all pay attention to each other instead of your screens. You’ll be helping your teen develop good habits — not overusing their phone at the expense of face-to-face interaction — and setting a good example as well.
You should also make Android or iPhone parental controls a condition of your teen’s cell phone ownership. Parental monitoring software can help you ensure that you know what apps your child is using and who they’re calling and texting. To find out more about how parental monitoring tools can help you protect your child online, get our free trial now.