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.
Introducing our children to technology on our terms is an outstanding way of eliminating pressure from them to be allowed to use and participate in activities we do not understand. The concept of adding cell phone privileges a month at a time is an excellent idea. Making sure they understand that their cell phone use will be monitored is important too, instead of checking without their knowledge.
Teaching children how to make sure the cell phone does not control them can be a difficult task, especially when they see how their parents use them. Parents need to be conscious about setting the right example, avoiding the “Do as I say, not as I do” concept of child rearing.
I agree that using electronic devices can be a powerful tool in assuring the desired behaviors from our teenagers. Taking away the ability to communicate with friends can be a huge incentive for keeping grades where they need to be, following family rules, and using technology in an appropriate way.
Sameer, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much for the work you do.
Middle School Teacher