Apart from asking us “how young is too young for Facebook?” Justin and I often work with parents who have other questions about household rules they should have in place related to their child’s use of technology. We first state that parents should provide their kids with access to these devices a little bit earlier than they think they should. The key is that THEY are the ones who introduce the technology (rather than initially learning about it from friends). By way of example, they can give their child a phone and state that for the first month, they can only call Mom and Dad. When the second month begins, they can start texting Mom and Dad.
Parents should also show their child the cell phone bill after each month so that they can begin to understand how much the service costs in order to develop fiscal responsibility at a young age. At the beginning of the third month, they can start to call and text one or two friends. Parents should gradually provide more freedom and responsibility (within limits, of course) and keep assessing how their child is handling those freedoms. They should take a step back, if necessary.
Conversations should be continual about cell phone use and abuse. Feel free to employ our Cell Phone Use Contract as well to set agreed-upon parameters for the family (such as those mentioned in our Top Ten Teen Tips for Cell Phone Safety). Try to cultivate balance and well-roundedness so that interacting and socializing on these devices does not become too much of a distraction from studying, sleeping, and other essentials. Finally, reinforce positive behavior and choices – perhaps with an iTunes gift card, or another technology-based reward (like enabling picture mail – as long as you can review the contents of their phone whenever you like and have had an age-appropriate conversation about sexting!).
Do not hesitate to sanction them when you see problematic behaviors, attitudes, or outcomes. For example, if school grades go down, or diligence in household chores goes down, their use of electronic devices should consequently be reduced. We also suggest that parents require their teens to keep their cell phone in a designated location after a certain hour (say, 9pm). Some “cut-off” point should be identified where youth are done for the day in their technology use. This, however, is not a foolproof way to prevent technology misuse, which we will explain in the near future.