Do you remember your first cell phone? I do. The first one I had, which was only mine, was a pink Razor flip phone I bought when I was 22. I often forgot to bring it with me, forgot to charge it – which it only needed every few days anyway – and it really didn’t do a whole lot.
How times have changed! Now my phone goes everywhere with me, basically houses my whole life – from photos to calendar reminders, to e-mails, apps, banking, games, and more. It’s no wonder my kids are eager to jump on this bandwagon of technology that symbolizes, to them, a mark of independence, responsibility, and has become a rite of passage for many of their peers.
My oldest son turned 12 recently, and that birthday was meant to be THE ONE WHERE HE GOT A PHONE (if it were a Friends episode, that would be the title). However, dude got in a bit of hot water, and delaying that milestone was the heaviest consequence we could think of. Nevertheless, Christmas rolled around, and all of his dreams came true and he got a phone! And not just any phone, an iPhone12 (because it was basically free with a deal from the carrier).
However, we did not, and could not, just let him loose with this bundle of potentially dangerous technology. There are some definite strings attached to this privilege, and here are some of the things we considered.
How to Monitor Your Child’s Cell Phone Use
1. See if your carrier offers a kids/teens line
We use Verizon (this is not an endorsement, just an example) and they do offer a kids plan, which limits the contacts they can add, sets parental approvals for contacts and apps, and allows us to set parental controls around data and internet usage (how much, what times, etc). We felt that starting with some training wheels would be a good way for our son to get a feel for the capabilities of his device, and also help him learn to manage and balance his time and attention.
2. Research apps
There are apps his friends use that we just don’t allow. He is 12, and the minimum age for a lot of them is technically 13 (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – basically all social media). Nevertheless, a lot of kids will use them anyway. Our son will definitely have access to social media before he is an adult, but before that, it is okay to take it slow.
I’m using the built-in age limits to say a hard no right now. He desperately wants TikTok, which, while it seems relatively innocent to him, I know better. No Snapchat or anything else social media like right now. We will revisit these in a year or two and see – every kid is different and maturity, interests, and responsibility vary.
3. Look over their shoulder
I am the opposite of a helicopter mom. I’m pretty free-range in nearly all things. But not this. I look at his phone, scan his texts. Not necessarily to be intrusive, and not every day. He knows I might glance pretty much whenever.
The goal is just to be aware of him, notice what’s going on in his life. And find opportunities to be instructive.
Like, maybe this text conversation could have been handled better. We all know how hard tone is to convey over text. A lot of my glances at his phone are really just a gut check – to see how he talks to his friends, what sort of language he’s using (not just swear words, but keeping myself up to date on acronyms, slang, and other generational lingo). As our pre-teens and teens grow up and away from us, finding ways to stay connected to them is important, and sometimes part of that is keeping our involvement feeling normal to them.
I love being able to text and call my kid. He sends funny videos and entertains his siblings with the things he finds. Having a phone in his pocket also allows him to enjoy the music he loves that he knows I don’t (I never wanted to be that parent, yet here I am, hating on my kid’s music choices). He is even rediscovering a love of photography, which is pretty cool.
There’s a line from Sweet Home Alabama (the movie, not the song) where he tells her, “You can have roots and wings, Mel.” I try to apply this to the technology our kids have access to – the roots are their connection to us, their parents, and the wings are the freedom they have to fly and explore the world. And both are important.
The jump to kids having a phone is a scary one. Technology is powerful and comes with so many opportunities for things to go sideways. Having this window to the world is both amazing and frightening for parents, though our kids only see the exciting bits. Despite all the things about having a phone that worry me sometimes, I don’t regret finally making that leap.
Have you made the cell phone leap with your kids? Do you have advice for other parents that are considering the timing and implementation of that rite of passage?