Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An Idea for Managing Teenagers and Cell Phones

This is sponsored content from BlogHer and LG Text Ed


My firstborn started sixth grade this year, which has sent me into a future-anticipating panic. I flit like a bumblebee from "What if I'm buying him clothes that will make him unpopular?" to "What if he gets teased so badly he Does Something Awful?" to "What if he's just one of those kids who is never going to fit in?" to "What if his grades aren't good enough for college?" to whole BOUQUETS of worries about EVERYTHING that could go wrong.

Which includes SEX and RELATIONSHIP worries. Fine, he's eleven years old, but eleven is sitting on the front steps of the Teenager Building. He'll be twelve in a few more months, and twelve is knocking on the door of the Teenager Building and calling out "Helloooooooo?"

I have what I would consider my primary fears for the next decade: (1) He'll get someone pregnant when such an event would plans-derailing; (2) He'll treat someone badly; (3) He'll choose someone bad for him.

And maybe more than the others: (4) He'll get involved in something I didn't even realize I was supposed to be talking to him about. Like sexting. I've HEARD of sexting, but I hadn't worried about it yet, and if you want HONESTY here, I wasn't completely clear on what it...IS. I had to look it up on Wikipedia to make sure I knew.

Rob doesn't have a cell phone. YET. Right now he doesn't need one, but as I understand it, pretty much all teenagers end up having them, is that right? And if I remember correctly from my teen years, it's not just a matter of setting up good rules, because SETTING rules for teens doesn't necessarily mean there is FOLLOWING of those rules, and therein lies the problem: How can I set rules AND ensure that they're followed---while minimizing privacy issues?

Here's my idea: What if we gave him a phone that would not be "his phone" but rather a FAMILY phone that anyone could use when they need to carry one along? This makes good sense for our family anyway: imagine if you will the cost of cell phone service for SEVEN cell phones.

This answers his complaint that he NEEDS a phone (by letting him take one to use when he needs it) and MY feeling that sometimes he needs a phone (so I can worry less, and so I can call him if I need/want to), but also allows us to keep better tabs on what the phone is being used for. It sure would be awkward to have a friend send a sexy text message if your MOM might have the phone that day.

From the client:

"Each comment left on this post benefits DoSomething.org with a $0.50 donation!

Visit LG Text Ed , where Dr. Rosalind Wiseman explains the dangers and consequences of this new form of flirting. You can also watch Emmy award winning actress Jane Lynch share a lesson on the sensitive stuff kids are sending around without thinking about the consequences."   

44 comments:

Amanda said...

My son is only as far as the front lawn in front of the Teenage Building and still I am in a panic about the future. The teenage years form who you ARE, who you will BE, what your future will be like. GAH. What if I don't guide enough? What if I guide too much? What if he gets someone pregnant? What if I hate the girls he chooses? What if the girl he chooses is mean to him? What if he's mean to someone? It's all just too much for my brain to handle.

Julie said...

I love the family phone idea. My kids are years (I hope) away from cell phone needs, but this is a great concept to tuck in the back of my brain until we get there. A prepaid phone would be perfect for this situation. I'm writing this one down.

Becky said...

I love the family phone idea as well. I have often wondered how we will handle phones when our kids are older (we currently each have a cell and no land line). This might be the key.

M.Amanda said...

It wasn't sexting, but my then 12-year-old niece got busted texting the f word last year - "that was really f-ing uncool."

Having to share the phone with her mother would not have prevented the conversation in which she used it, but it would have discouraged her from documenting it so that the other girl's mother found it and called to bawl out my SIL.

SIL quickly decided it was time for the "don't lose your temper and say something you can't take back" and "don't document your stupidity" conversations.

lifeofadoctorswife said...

There is SO MUCH to worry about when it comes to kids! I don't even have kids and I worry about this stuff!

That said, I love your idea of having a household cell phone. (Or maybe a couple of them - I feel like I've seen some providers offer multiple family lines for $10 a line or something.)

Can I just take a second to express my utter loathing for texting? YUCK. HAAAAAAATE.

I think if you have a household cell, you will also put the kibosh on unsavory things like kids texting at the dinner table or instead of talking to you.

Maggie said...

Since my oldest is only 7.5, I'm (thankfully) many years away from the teen years, but your family phone idea sounds good to me.

Of course the fact that my son is many moons away from the teen years doesn't make me stop worrying about them already. Funny how my worries are never things like "what if he's so popular he has 3 dates to the prom" or "what if he's so great at sports he becomes a total a-hole" Yeah, one look at his dad and I in HS and I'm pretty sure I can safely not worry about those kinds of issues at least...

Mimi said...

Teenagers and cell phones make me nervous too. I think your idea sounds great.

Tess said...

I love the idea of SHARING A PHONE! Covers the safety angle while discouraging shenanigans! Genius!

I don't know why, but I continue to feel compelled to tell people that I didn't have a cell phone until I was TWENTY-FIVE years old. And I went to college thousands of miles from my family!! Without a cell phone! It boggles the mind.

Caitlin said...

How do you always think of the most creative solutions for things like this?
(And to echo another commenter, OMG but there are SO! MANY! things to think about with kids!) (And I don't even have any!)

PS - I heart DoSomething.org!

Dr. Maureen said...

Sharing a family phone seems like a freaking brilliant idea to me. That said, I think the time might come when you will feel you have to let him have his own phone. I have teenaged nieces, and kids today text. Text text text. That's all they do. I text my niece when I want her to babysit because it is the only way she knows how to communicate. I exaggerate only slightly. But I am NOT exaggerating when I say her mother, my sister, gave in and bought an unlimited texting plan for her daughters after YEARS of making them pay ten cents per text or what have you and then buying the limited plan and making them pay for overages, because they ran out of messages on day three of the cycle or something because EVERYONE TEXTS. Actually... she probably made THEM pay for the unlimited plan. But you see my point.

Still, at 11, using a family phone seems more than reasonable to me. And also brilliant.

Marie Green said...

Tess' comment made me laugh, because when *I* went to college, I got my very first email account, and my parents decided AGAINST getting me a calling card, so I had to call them collect. They would hear who the call was from and say NO to the collect call, and then call me back. And I couldn't email them b/c they didn't have a home computer. Only my other college-aged friends had email. This was in 1993.

Anyway, you family phone idea really is a good one.

Melissa said...

We don't have a land line and so a few months ago we added another line to our plan. My 10 year old carries it pretty much anytime he is not with me or my husband. We don't call it his phone though, it's our phone that we allow him to carry when it suits us. He is not allowed to call anyone besides my husband and myself unless we have given him permission to. When he is with us the the phone is put away in my room. I always said that I would get my kids a phone when it was convenient for me for them to have one.

Barb @ getupandplay said...

Brilliant~

wisdomandpeace said...

I love the family phone idea! Perhaps when my daughter is old enough to use one, I'll simply let her borrow mine.

I'm also sending you a big cyber-hug for worrying about your SON's future sexual behavior (and consequences thereof). I'm the mother of a daughter and a son and I'm so tired of the double standard that you have to "worry" about daughters but not as much about sons when they begin to date. Fathers of sons don't make jokes about "getting the shotgun ready" when their boys start asking out girls. I'm not at all in favor of young people being forced into a marriage they're not ready for because there's a baby on the way (or of shotguns, for that matter), but what really irks me is the general societal consensus that it's a shame to the family when a daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock but not as much if a boy gets a girl pregnant out of wedlock. I expect chastity from both of my children regardless of gender and should they disregard our rules & expectations regarding pre-marital sex I expect that they would step up and take responsibility for the consequences of their behavior regardless of gender.

Bring A. Torch said...

I read one of the articles that Wikipedia linked to and am officially weirded out. The family phone idea sounds like an eminently logical solution. Plus, it gives your kids a chance to demonstrate responsible usage so they can "earn" an individual phone if you deem that appropriate.

Anonymous said...

companies make these little phones that are real cell phones but limited in what they can do - they can call only the numbers that mom/dad puts in the phone book and thats it. no texting. no calling anyone they want.

http://www.fireflymobile.com/store/glowphone/

to me that seems like a happy medium between a full-fledged cell phone for an 11 yr old and nothing at all; i know not many schools have pay phones these days so if he needed to stay after school or call you for any reason, he would be able to.

d e v a n said...

I like the sharing a phone idea, and also the idea of a phone that can only call home, parent's cells and 911.

Superjules said...

The problem with texting or sexting is that you can just delete the texts you don't want Mom to see. Someone should invent one that saves text conversations for this very purpose. Or, does it already exist I wonder?

Carolyn said...

I love the shared phone concept, and I have a feeling that if you talked to some cell phone providers, someone out there probably offers a service to keep copies of texts off-site so that sneaky kids can't delete them ;) OR, you just get a phone and have them shut off the text feature!

Fiona Picklebottom said...

My daughter is a junior in high school and I just gave her a phone a month ago. I got her a basic phone and only bought the $25 go-phone plan that charges 10 cents per minute and 20 cents per text. The $25 expires in 3 months but can be renewed and if you renew before the 3 months is up, any time you haven't used (right) rolls over. Anyway, I only pay the $25 each 3 months and she is financially responsible for any overages. That makes her think before using the phone at all, which is my goal, as I think a cell phone for a child is for emergencies, not chatting and playing on the Internet.

Cheryl said...

My daughter is only 2 years old, but I already have my game plan for when she's at an age where she will "need" a cell phone. Either I will get a restricted phone like the firefly one that was mentioned, or I'll have a phone that she will only have in her possession when I feel she needs to have it.

Anonymous said...

You're one of few people I read who has older kids! Thanks for the innovative ideas.

Anonymous said...

My family adopted this policy and it works well. You may gradually have to add another phone or two to satisfy the amount of children/parents who need to use a phone occasionally, and it sometimes makes sense to have two right from the start in case you're out of the house and he is as well...then the communication can still be both ways.

Anonymous said...

My oldest is 14, and texting/facebook (via computer or phone) is her primary means of communication with her friends (I mean, when they're not standing in front of her. And sometimes when they are.) If you are at all concerned about your son's social life/friend making ability, I'm not sure that making him the kid who shares a phone will his parents and all his siblings is such a hot idea. This might be appropriate for a period of time at 12 or 13 when you're getting into the swing of things -- but once he hits high school? There are other ways to address this: e.g., letting him know that one condition of cell ownership is that you can and will look at his texts if you think it's necessary and that he needs to exercise good judgment. Granted, he can erase text messages (and he could do that on a family phone too), but at least you're addressing potential problems by talking with him, letting you know you trust his judgment (but might check his judgment from time to time, because hey, you're a mom), and not adopting strategy of protection/control that has the potential to make him seem like a weird kid (something you already seem concerned about, right?)

ps - I have PhD in psychology, so this answer isn't entirely straight out of my ass.

Brenna said...

We got our 6th grader a phone for her birthday. And it was a rough couple of months. It was a distraction when she was supposed to be doing homework or sleeping, so we had to revise the rules. Now she doesn't get her phone on school nights at all (we didn't want her rushing her homework and doing a poor job), unless we go somewhere that I want her to have it. And it charges in the kitchen, not her bedroom. And we've had the bullying conversation, and the sexting conversation, and the "assume that everything you text will be forwarded to the whole school, so watch what you say" conversation. And it's all ongoing. It's a huge pain in the ass, truth be told.

Veronica said...

I like your idea, but for now I've told my kids that I didn't have a cell phone until I was 20 years old and married so they'll have to grow up and get their own.

nicolien said...

Sounds like a great idea, but there's one thing I am wondering about: in the shared-phone scenario, how do you control the costs? Especially if it's a phone shared between your kids, how do you find out who texted/called how much and is (thus) responsible for paying what's used more than was agreed upon?

Anonymous said...

Like the idea and look forward to hearing how it works out. I can only imagine the logistics - "I *need* the phone", "NO! I *NEED* the phone!", etc.

Let us know!

Christy said...

I like your idea. It eases the kids into having a phone. Then you can judge if he 'earns' the privilege of having his own phone. I didn't have one until I was almost 20. My son's almost 1, so I'm sure by the time he's ready, we'll be fighting about something like a surgical phone plug-in in your head or something.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

I like your idea and want to steal it, eventually, especially for the early teen years. Once they're older, I can foresee them "needing" a phone of their own, with perhaps the rule that we can and will sporadically check texts and messages.

UG. NO FUN to think about.

cakeburnette said...

Well, unless Rob is buying the phone himself and paying his monthly service plan costs, he really doesn't get any expectation of privacy.

Your plan will work, but my husband told our two when they got theirs (and the unlimited texting plan, which is IMPERATIVE if you have teens with phones) that the phones were subject to mom & dad taking them AT ANY TIME UNANNOUNCED and looking through the texts. It works too. Not to mention the whole talk about what you send out is no longer under your control, so think before you hit "send."

Pre-teen and teen years are actually better than potty-training years, IMHO. :)

Jennifer said...

I agree with cakeburnette. Wrote a blog post about it at www.jsvh.blogspot.com Thanks for your thoughtful posts!

Stephanie Sharples Francis said...

I love the family phone idea and all the other tidbits about setting limits and rules and expectations both financially and otherwise. I have a 16 month old and this stuff ALREADY makes me want to bury my head in the sand. The texting! Always with the texting these days! And I admit that I have to be careful b/c I text too (not as much as, say a teenager, but still) and so I need to realize the example I set and ugggghhh.

Also second wisdomandpeace's thoughts on the sexual activities and boys vs girls. That also makes me shake in the knees.

Melissa said...

I think this might work! My kids are several years younger than yours, so I'm looking forward to you testing it out!

Anonymous said...

Smart momma!

fairydogmother said...

You know, I think this is a much smarter idea than my theoretical plan for my own imaginary future teenagers. Which was going to be similar to the policy my parents had about driving when we were teenagers: we were allowed to get our driver's license when we had saved up enough money to pay for the test & half of a year's worth of car insurance (as an additional driver on our parents insurance, obviously). I hadn't taken sexting into consideration. Or, you know, that the timing may all coincide with a first job, drivers license, and first cell phone. That's a lot of newness & freedom (real and imagined) all at once, and a lot of responsibility. A shared family phone sounds like a much better idea. Or at least a much better introduction.

Man, I'm glad dogs don't need cell phones. Or drivers licenses. Or, you know, facebook pages.

fairydogmother said...

Reading through the other comments I have to laugh in recognition at what Tess said. I went to college in my hometown. I lived at home to save money, driving or riding the bus to campus in the city in the mornings then going to my part-time job in the afternoons (or you know, going to work at 6am, then to campus for a few hours, then back to work by 2 or 3 in the afternoon). My first cell phone was purchased one year when I was in college and my car broke down one day. I called AAA, got my car towed to the shop & while it was being worked on a friend came to rescue me. We went to go get lunch and HER car broke down. We were a couple of blocks from her dad's store so we walked there and he helped us out. And I called work from there because at this point I was probably going to be late. That weekend my friend & I went out and bought cell phones. They cost us $100 each & then cost 25 cents per minute. I very rarely used it. My first cell phone that I used regularly was purchased when I was 25 and had my first full time job after grad school.

Raven said...

OMG. The cell phone is THE ONLY bargaining chip we have in this house. My son (15) is INSANE for his phone like 7000 text msgs in 11 days insane. Yes.

*sigh*

My problem is that I have a hex to deal with so even if we didn't let him have one, he would so any thing I try to do to reduce or control, he uses as a way to one-up and better. UGH.

may said...

Does anyone else think Do Something is about the lamest name ever? Or maybe our culture is lame - like they're so aware that everyone's sitting around Doing Nothing that they don't even bother to give direction, as long as you're Doing Something.

...I'm cynical.

But I guess I'm Doing Something by posting here, so they'll be happy. : )

SIL Anna said...

Oh, dear. I hadn't even started worrying about this yet.

Heather R said...

I also like the idea of the family phone and only worry that it will make my children look "uncool" not have their OWN phone....not that it should matter, but it does....I just don't want my kids to ever seem uncool and get made fun of or bullied.....all of this stuff it SO scary to me. 10 years away, but will go by fast I am sure!!

A Parody of Sanity said...

I have two teenagers, and two children on the brink of adolescence.

As far as technology goes, I let my older two have their own cell phone, and we have two prepaid, simple ones for my youngest to use if they need it. It works out pretty well, and I would definitely recommend it.

I remember when my oldest, Leo, started middle school. Yes, I fretted and fretted and fretted. And everything turned out okay (well, until these past few weeks, but that's something that's very, very unlikely to happen to your son).

There are an infinite things that can go wrong, but almost all of them don't actually happen.

Ms. Molly said...

I'm amazed to see many young kids (3,4,5 grade) with cell phones. I think it's especially important to talk to your kids about sexting and cyber bullying.

Sabrina said...

I have often fretted over this topic, and my oldest is only 4 1/2. But the way things are going, I think kids will have, and then "need" by virtue of all the other kids having, cell phones earlier and earlier. I think it's because cell phones are becoming more like personal media devices rather than just phones. It's the kid's mp3 player, their portable video gaming device, and their connection to mom and dad via texting, or when all else fails, via telephone. How often does a kid even place a call, really?!

So I dread the topic with everything in me, and expect it to be an issue within 5 years. Only time will tell. I agree with some other commenters that I will make it clear to my kids that they have no guarantee of privacy on their phones, though I will respect them when I have no reason to feel anything is going wrong and they are following the rules. And I REALLY like the idea of telling your child to ASSUME that every single message they send will be forwarded to the entire school. Fear of humiliation is probably a great motivator, right?

Thanks for addressing this topic!