Hi Moms! Have you ever thought about the fact that we are the generation of parents to ever parent the use of cell phones? I think that deserves a badge of honor!.
This is all new stuff to us. And I honestly learn more and more that I didn’t know about cell phones and social media every single day. Some of it from articles or books that I’ve read, some of it from seminars I’ve attended, but most of it from my own children, both the information they’re willing to offer me, and the information that I unfortunately have stumbled upon when they have, maybe, been caught doing something they shouldn’t.
I have made it one of my missions to figure out this cell phone thing and how to best parent this rising generation of cell phone users. It’s nothing like any other previous generations have experienced–that’s for sure.
But, although I have found a lot of answers for myself and how I have decided to go about parenting my kids and their cell phones (although I do change the rules quite a bit when something isn’t working, so I shouldn’t make it sound like I have figured it out completely cause I really don’t), but I wanted you to know that I am not here today to tell you what you should be doing with your kids and their smartphones and their social media use. What I do want to do is shed some light on the subject and offer some suggestions, and even tell you some of the things I wish I would have done differently with my older children that I’m now doing better with my younger children (which is making a ton of difference, by the way), so that you can make your own decisions about how you will proceed with your own children. That is my goal for this episode, to give you the knowledge that you need to feel confident in allowing your child or teenager to have a smartphone.
If you hear something in this episode today that rings true to you, that stands out to you, or maybe really shakes you because you didn’t know or hadn’t thought about it, and you wished you would have done things a little differently, pay attention to that!
And if your kids have had their smartphones for years without very many rules or regulations in place, and you feel like you want to do things a little differently now, then do it! You are allowed to change the rules at any time. Yes, there will be backlash, maybe even a lot. But just continue to remind your child that you are the parent, and that you are the first generation of parents to try to figure this out, and that as you learn more you will change the rules as much as needed.
Also remind your child that you pay for the cell phone so technically you own the cell phone and you have the right to make the rules. I mean, you even have the right to take it away at any time you want. You’re even allowed to get the cell phone, unlock it, and go through it any time you want. Some parents say this is not okay and this disrespects your child’s privacy, but if your child knows and understands that you might do that at any time, they will perhaps be more careful with their communications. So I’m not suggesting to spy on your child and ruin all trust between you, but it’s okay to let them know that it is your cell phone that they have use of and that you can take it any time and go through it if you think that they might be up to something or you just want to check some things out. I truly believe that that is our right as a parent, but that that should be communicated to them up front.
Our children need to be reminded that a cell phone is a tool given to them so that they can communicate. To have a cell phone is a privilege, a huge privilege, not a right.
I did not want my kids to have a smartphone. Like, ever. Which I realize now was a pretty unrealistic idea. But back in 2014, when my oldest was at the tail end of middle school and about to go to high school, he had a flip phone. The rule was, “No one is allowed to have a fancier phone than mom!” So that’s all I had, too, was a flip phone. That was really all we needed. They could text or call me, I could text or call my friends, we still had a landline so I used that a lot, but it just worked for us. My kids knew that I had the same little phone that they had and there was not a lot of push back. Maybe a little mumbling and grumbling sometimes, but it worked for us.
And then in 2015, when my divorce was finalized, right before Christmas, I lost that flip phone battle. My kids’ dad bought my 3 oldest: 14, 12, and 10 years old at the time, an iphone with a phone number and data.
Anyway, after spinning for awhile on how to combat this new challenge that I was not yet educated enough to deal with, I got to work putting together a cell phone contract, complete with 14 points per contract per kid that had to be initialed by each child, signed by them and both parents. I felt like this would help the matter quite a bit. I felt like I had done everything right: The rules were stated clearly, there were natural and logical consequences attached if the rules weren’t followed, and I worked diligently, sometimes around the clock (Yes, like waking up in the middle of the night only to find a child who had snuck their cell phone out of the charging station in my room and into their bed to text their friends all night), to make sure the rules were being followed. I wasn’t like super crazy about it, I just had to be very aware and very vigilant because that consistency thing is so important with children, especially with cell phones. You can make the best rules with the best consequences attached, but if you are not consistently following through all the time, they will toss out those rules like they never existed in the first place. They will pick and choose the rules that they know you will follow through on and then they will toss out the rest. And children, especially some of mine, are such opportunists, that if they can sense that I am not paying attention, they will bend the rules as much as possible.
So anyway, it was going okay. I was doing my best. And I know the other house was trying too, even though none of us really knew the effects of this pandora’s box we had just opened.
A little side note: I did finally break down and get a smart phone about three months later and I have no idea what in the world I ever did without one–truly an amazing invention that I am grateful for pretty much every single day now.
So, I want to talk a little bit more about these contracts. I feel that contracts are so important when it comes to kids and their smartphones. Don’t make the mistake we did, we can’t just be giving the kids a smartphone and believe that they’re automatically going to know how to use it safely and responsibly. I feel like it is a very dangerous weapon if not taught how to use it responsibly. You as parents have to set the tone for this.
So, I would strongly suggest considering a contract. I have made available for you the very simple contract that I use with my children on my website in the resources section @ the-mommywhisperer.com/resources and look for podcast mentionables.
I have found that contracts between parents and kids work because they provide an opportunity for parents to specifically spell out their expectations for smartphone use. As parents, sometimes we just assume that our kids know what we expect them to do, but that just isn’t the case. We’ve got to specifically spell out what we expect our kids to know and the consequences for what will happen if they don’t follow those guidelines.
Try to be as specific as possible in your expectations in the contract with your child. So the one I’m giving you, you can edit, and make it work for you and your family.
And if your child already has a smartphone and no contract, no problem. You are allowed to start this contract even post phone in hand. Yes, it will be more difficult this way, giving them the contract after they’ve had the phone. And, if possible, we need to get this contract in their hand at the time of or even a little before giving them the phone, but no matter what, no matter how much push back you get, a contract is going to help your child’s smartphone use so so much! It will be worth it. I promise.
So, now that more than half of my children had a smartphone, I slowly started to realize things were changing with them. And now looking back, I realize, and it breaks my heart to see how much of their childhood was lost to those devices. My daughter, who was 12 at the time, used to play really imaginative games with her younger brother and sister like school, dolls, she orchestrated plays and musicals, puppet shows and dance performances for the family, and she also used to never sit still. She was always dancing—always dancing—or doing acrobatics (she had a bright green shirt with the words upside down that read, “This is my handstand shirt” because she was upside down more than she was right side up). I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I realize that once that smartphone was put in her hand, that is when all of that stopped. It’s like it completely stunted her creativity.
You know, when you have free time with nothing to do and so you find things to do to keep from getting bored? Or at least we used to before a smartphone. Well now my kids had something to keep them from getting bored, it was their cell phone. And being so new at parenting this, we didn’t have very many, if any, restrictions on it yet (we did pretty soon after), but it was pretty much free for all. And they were all completely obsessed. I had to start adding things to the contract that I didn’t foresee, it’s now up to about 23 points that they have to initial each one. Like, I added no cell phones at the dinner table; or when someone is talking to you, put the cell phone down and make eye contact because people are more important than phones. Anyway, you get my point. I had to keep adding to it as I kept learning what the issues were.
So that’s all I have for you today. I hope you will go on my website and get that contract; I really hope it helps you.
And remember: Be clear and specific when setting up cell phone expectations for your child.