I’ve calmed down since my last cell phone rant. But not by much.
After a candid conversation with a few teenagers, I learned that middle schoolers need phones for several reasons:
1) Once the day is done, students are usually on their own. After a certain time, the school is locked and it’s difficult to make a telephone call from the office, which is also locked.
2) It’s a means of looking (and being) occupied during awkward social times, such as waiting for and riding on the bus, waiting for the first bell, waiting for the lunch period to end, and waiting for dismissal. It’s a type of “don’t bother me, I’m busy” signal that a hardback book used to serve.
3) Group work is more common in middle school, which requires kids to spend time together out of class. It’s hard to coordinate logisitcs, and even harder to share files and pieces of the project without email and cell service. For most kids, a phone is a homework tool.
4) The mother of a teenager chimed in to remind me that we live in a Columbine and Sandy Hook world. School lock downs can occur for any reason these days. Wouldn’t I rather get a text from my daughter telling me that everything is OK, as opposed to calling the school for a half-hour trying to get answers?
And 5) There’s a lot of emphasis on knowing where our children are at all times. But, we’re the ones who are picking them up. Traffic jams, wrecks, detours, dangerous weather, meetings, etc., can keep us from getting to them on time. Shouldn’t our kids know were WE are?
I relayed all of this information to my husband, and we determined that our rising sixth grader doesn’t need a cell phone for her birthday. Nothing good can come of it over the course of a summer vacation. There’s too much downtime to get into friendship trouble due to potential misunderstandings. However, IF we do cave in and allow her to have a cell phone, it’ll happen the day before school starts. We’ll visit our guy at AT&T to select a phone that connects to our network so we can monitor every single move — incoming and outgoing.
But, if we discover improper use of the phone by our tween or her classmates, we’ll rethink our decision. James Lehman, creator of The Total Transformation Program also produced a companion piece called “The Complete Guide to Consequences”. Dr. Lehman gives parents tips on motivating children to practice responsible behavior. However, much of his advice is geared toward managing indignant teens. I needed specific help in the cell phone area, so I searched for blogs that focused on protecting our kids before trouble starts.
Dr. Laura Markham has been known to ruffle parents’ feathers, but in this instance, she is absolutely correct in her assessment of tween-age independence. As Markham points out in the very first paragraph of an essay, the middle school years are children’s first steps toward total separation, but a cell phone keeps them connected to mom and dad.
Some other parenting experts say that’s the problem. Cell phones turn parents and children into conjoined twins. Kids don’t know how to cope with problems. They only know how to text their parents.
Markham admits that she worried for hours about her daughter misusing the phone to text after midnight, chat with strangers, download expensive apps and songs, post rude or thoughtless comments on social networking sites, and share less-than-flattering pictures with kids who could then send them on to the entire student body.
Yes, Dr. Laura, I hear you loud and clear. Dr. James Lehman says we should trust our kids until they give us a reason not to. We need to set firm expectations of how the cell phone and its features are to be used. Contracts may seem silly, but every service provider requires customers to enter into agreements before any type of product can be sold. Parents are providing their child with a cell phone. This device should come with a list of demands:
1. Phones are given back to parents at the end of each day. Phones should not be allowed in a child’s bedroom overnight.
2. Phone numbers must be kept private, and given out only with permission from mom and/or dad.
3. Keep a life: A child (tween/teen) should not stop what they’re doing to answer friends’ texts or calls when they first come in. However, if mom or dad calls, then the child MUST pick up. No excuses. No exceptions. If a call is missed, return it ASAP and be prepared to explain.
4. NEVER broadcast a location, or post/check-in on social networking sites.
5. Know that the phone can be checked at any time, without warning. Be prepared for all texts or messages/voice mails, etc., to be read or listened to. Privacy is reserved for bathrooms.
It’s sort of ironic: Parents report that they allow their tween to have a cell phone ONLY so they can stay in touch for safety purposes. In this day and age, people are unreliable. If you want your child to be able to get a hold of you, it’s because you know that a million things can happen, and a text might make the difference between a close call and a devastating one. However, when the child does something wrong, the cell phone is taken away.
Safety first? I wonder.