In our last Digital Detox article, we focused a lot on television viewing habits—putting your family’s media consumption under the microscope. This time, let’s dive into cellphone usage, particularly in teens. We’ll compare and contrast a variety of recommendations and advice, from ‘mommy-bloggers’ to The New York Times, to give you a better grasp of how to curb cellphone habits and keep your kids safe.
Now before you start to sound like your parents by uttering, “When I was a kid, nobody texted,” or, “I didn’t have a cell phone until I was twenty,” remember: we’ve come a long way in a short time. It was only eleven years ago when the Blackberry was released, which gave way to first iPhone in 2007. While that doesn’t seem like too long ago, the technology and applications have come a long way in just six years.
Interestingly, a parental shift is occurring and phones are seen as less of a distraction from real life, but rather, a crucial extension of it, but where is the line drawn? You may have the same habit your teenager does—constantly having your phone within reach, whether you’re at the dinner table or sleeping with it under your pillow. While your addiction may not be that extreme, as a parent try to set an example by not only telling your kid to ease back but take your own advice and follow your home’s “cell-phone law”—which we’ll can help you establish below.
Teens, specifically teenage girls, are attached to their phones. According to PEW Research Center, on any given day the average fourteen-year-old receives 165 text messages and that’s not even counting tweets, status updates, posting images/videos, and social sharing.
Setting House Rules
Here are some ground rules for your home that can limit the digital onslaught:
- No phones during meals: This is your chance to communicate as a family—don’t waste this chance to bond.
- The phone basket: When you walk through the door and unload your items (bag, keys, etc.) plunk your phone in a designated basket and either encourage your kids to do the same during meals, family time, and bedtime or setup ‘basket time’ that forces cell phones to remain in the basket, no matter what, for a period of time (e.g. 9pm to 7am).
- Parental controls: Most smartphones have features that allow you to monitor and limit cell usage. Calls and texts can be blocked during certain times of the day so that friend that texts at two in the morning won’t wake your kid up.
- Check phone bills: Cell phone providers include a list of all text messages, including the other phone number involved, and the date and time of the texts. If your child has agreed not to text between a certain time in the afternoon any violations will be easy to see.
- Know your web acronyms: LOL and BRB are common but do you know: KPC, GNOC, or CD9? It’s okay, we didn’t either—here’s a complete list over at Safetyweb.com (it’s at the bottom of the page).
- Get those passwords: In certain cases, it makes sense for a teen to give you their passwords to their accounts (it can be tough to nail them all down, there’s a list of popular networks below). Assure your kid that you won’t check those accounts unless you have reason to believe that something inappropriate is happening..
Know Your Networks
Most teens have ditched more social networks than you’ve even joined. How many of these services are you familiar with? We’ll start with the easy ones–trust us, there’s plenty more:
Lastly, we should mention sexting. In case you’re not familiar, sexting is a relatively new term used for the act of sending a sexually suggestive or explicit text/image message to someone else. According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in 2008 nearly 40% of teens have sent or posted sexually suggestive emails or text message and 20% of teens have sent/posted nude or semi-nude images of themselves. It should go without saying—sexting could have disastrous consequences. The impact of such content getting leaked could result in social isolation from friends, bullying, and unwelcome sexual solicitations. Additionally, in cases where such content may have been shared as the result of revenge, it could certainly lead to violence. Aside from reputation and social issues, sending, receiving, and/or sharing this type of content could lead to disciplinary action by schools, and possibly even state and federal law enforcement. Most importantly, what might start out as a fleeting and thoughtless lapse of judgment could lead to serious emotional and self-esteem issues for any child or young adult.
For more information on the dangers of sexting and strategies to help get a conversation started, check out this article at Psychology Today.