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Monday, October 18, 2010

Teenagers & Cell Phones

At a restaurant this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the family at the table beside ours. While mom and dad talked with their young son; their teenager furiously tapped away at her cell phone—texting. Their daughter was no part of the dinner conversation; her focus was on the credit card-sized electronic device in her hand.

“Kids spend more than 7.5 hours a day with media—TV, iPods, and the Web—plus another two hours on their cell phones...heavy media users reported lower grades and happiness levels.” According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

My husband and I love slaying the media giants in our home. The cell phone is one of the easiest to kill, in our opinion. We aren’t victim to the media feeding frenzy of this generation—because we know as parents, we hold all the cards.

“Mom, can I get a cell phone?” our oldest daughter came home one day and asked. At fifteen years old, I didn’t understand her need for one. I completely understood her want, but not her need.

“Why do you want one?” I asked.

“Everyone has one Mom. I’m the only teenager on the face of the earth who doesn’t have a cell phone. It’s embarrassing.” She whined.

My daughter didn’t realize I’d used the everyone-has-one logic twenty-five years earlier when I’d asked my parents for a Sony walkman, acid wash jeans and my very own pager.

As she rambled off the reasons why she believed she needed a cell phone, I had a flashback; standing in my childhood kitchen debating my Mother.

“But, Mom, I need a pager. Everyone has a pager. I’m the only teenager on the face of the earth that doesn’t’ have a pager. It’s embarrassing.” I whined and brushed aside my big 80’s hair for emphasis.

“Are you a heart surgeon? Does the hospital need to page you for surgery?” She asked.

“No.” I huffed.

“Then you don’t need a pager. You want one. A need is not a want.” She reminded me.

My Mom’s words haunted me now. “Meghan, you don’t need a cell phone. You want one. Who do you need to call, you’re stock broker?” I asked, using the same genetic wit passed down from generations of mothers before me.

Paul and I knew cell phones weren’t going away. Eventually, we’d need to address this electronic device. We reminded each other it is okay to say no to our child every once in awhile. Once our children were driving and had their own part-time job income, we addressed the cell phone situation again. This time we came up with a few family rules.

We Don’t Buy Cell Phones For Our Children – If our kids want a cell phone, they must have the financial ability to purchase one for themselves. We bless our children by allowing them to use our family plan. This means they pay for their cell phone and their monthly service fee—which means for us; cell phones don’t come on the scene until our kids have a part-time job.

Cell Phones Not Allowed – We have a “seen and not heard” rule when it comes to cell phones. We love to see our teen- we refuse to see their cell phone. When our teen comes home from school, their cell phone is put away in their purse or in their bedroom. If I hear it going off, it’s mine. This means there are no cell phones at the dinner table, in the car, or while visiting at their grandma’s house, ever. We’ve taught our kids it is incredibly rude to have a cell phone bully its way into a family moment by a chirp, whistle or jingle.

Operating Hours – We discovered through our first teenager; cell phones come to life when everyone goes to bed. After three days with her first cell phone, we realized our oldest child was addicted to her phone—we were sure of it. Like a crack addict, she couldn’t be without it. While she figured out how to handle this new toy, we asked her to put her phone to bed in our room at night. That way, we knew our teen wasn’t going to be interrupted by a text from a girlfriend at 11pm. It’s amazing how young adults are electronic wizards, yet are unable to find the “off” button. And, surprisingly, just like an addiction, stopping cell phone use cold-turkey is a great way to curb a bad habbit.

Your Cell Phone is My Cell Phone – If our child has a problem controlling their calls or texting habits, we have no problem taking it from them. It’s a great disciplinary tool. And, one we only needed to follow-thru one or two times to work well. If our child reminds us, “You can’t take my phone. I bought that phone and pay for it myself!”

My husband reminds him or her, “Yes, and you have that great monthly service fee because you’re on our plan. Go ahead; try getting a plan on your own. Oh, that’s right; you have to be eighteen years old to sign up for a cell phone plan.”

Reality is a cold bucket of water on a teenage cell-phone-fire.

How about you? What are some of the boundaries your family created for cell phones?