Kids and Phones – Smart or Not?
We recently passed a huge cultural milestone – ten years ago, Apple introduced the iPhone, and our whole culture changed. The Pew Research Center reports that almost four out of five American adults own a smart phone and nearly three-fourths of teenagers have one of their own.
Is this a good thing, or not?
We’ve decided the answer is simply, “Yes.” The temptations and dangers are real. Carrying a tiny Internet device in your pocket offers a million opportunities to waste time, promises a false privacy which tempts users to explore online gambling or pornography, and opens a door for round-the-clock bullying.
But the phone can be a lifeline for young drivers, giving them a way to call for help or notify parents when plans change – and most days, it serves as a reasonably reliable navigator. And there’s all the other features and apps that replace literally thousands of dollars in separate technical equipment – most of them, for no cost at all.
Your mileage may vary
This is one of those things which will be decided differently from one family to the next. In our case, since our guys learn to drive ASAP and we spend a lot of time on the road, we get each of our children his own phone when he gets his license.
Our younger kids don’t need individual phones, but we realized that kids old enough to go on field trips and summer camps or to stay home alone might need a temporary phone – so we try to keep one additional phone on our contract. The “kids’ phone” gets loaned out whenever there’s a need.
Safeguards and cautions
= Internet accountability – We install monitoring software like (affiliate link, thanks!) Covenant Eyes on all our phones. It helps us avoid temptation when we learn that someone will find us out – and ultimately, Someone infallibly knows!
= Training – We warn our kids to keep their contact information secret and not trust people they meet online. Apps like Snapchat and Yellow can be used by predators to groom victims. And don’t forget many states have strict laws about phone use while driving – besides the genuine risk that is for younger drivers.
= Etiquette – People in real life take precedence over the phone. We thought that answering machines freed us up from the expectation that we “must” answer the ringing phone in the hall. Now, we jump to look at every notification that buzzes? Don’t.
= Bedtime for the phone – Several common problems – insomnia, moodiness, and distraction – can be related to using the phone in bed. Who needs to continue a text conversation into the wee hours, when they have school the next morning? Often cyberbullies stalk their victims at night, too. Just turn it off!
Studies show that the bluish light of electronic devices can stimulate the brain to more wakefulness, too. We installed software on our phones to change the screen to a warmer tone as the evening goes along – it actually helps!
Everyone doesn’t deserve the same rule
Too often we forget that the rules we set for our eight-year-old need to be revised for our 16-year-old. It is perfectly just for our older teens, young adults like they are, to have more freedom (and greater responsibility) than their young siblings.
And never forget that relationship trumps a lot of regulations. If you encourage your teenagers to act like young adults and not like grown-up children, and recognize their emerging manhood and womanhood, you may find much less of a struggle managing them and your household rules. And consider this – if your teenager feels a need to assert some control and independence in his life, which is likely to have fewer risks – to make his own choices about clothing, haircuts, and schedules? Or to declare his cell phone habits as private and off-limits to parents? Right. Give them freedom in as many areas as you can, recognize their growing adulthood, but insist on transparency when it comes to their devices.
Hal and Melanie
FOR MORE THOUGHTS, LISTEN TO OUR PODCAST – Episode 172