When your tween or teen is ready for their first cell phone, how can you make sure that they are knowledgeable about the risks and rewards that come with having a mobile device?
Earlier this month I was invited to speak to a middle school Girl Scout troop about cell phones and our conversation was fascinating. The girls are among the 77% of kids between 12-17 that the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported to have cell phones in their March 2012 report.
While it was clear that the girls were incredibly knowledgeable about never using their phones to bully through texting, photos, or videos, they had limited knowledge about what their data plan included and who would pay for overages in terms of calling minutes, data, and texting or that app downloads were immediately charged to their parents’ iTunes account.
What kinds of things do you need to discuss with your child as you ready yourself to hand them their first cell phone? After al, it’s a privilege, not a right.
- Address when and how the cell phone should be used. Talk about the school rules for cell phone use and your expectations for use at home, school, and also while they’re out. Do you expect them to turn in their cell phone when they come home or by a certain time each night? Establish ground rules for use and be sure to model the behavior you expect. It’s also important that your child knows cell phones are not to be used to bully or harass others via text, photos, or video and to do so, is against the law.
- Talk about your plan. How many talking minutes do they get? How many texts can they send? Is there a data plan?
- Discuss what happens if they go over their allocated talk time, number of texts, and data plan. As parents, you get the bill but do you expect them to reimburse you for overages out of their allowances or work towards paying them off in other ways? Make sure this is clear.
- Establish consequences for when the rules are broken. Having everything out in the open ensures that there will be no surprises for your child.
- Establish a mobile safety agreement. Creating an agreement about cell phone use in your house may seem formal but it establishes how important it is that your kids abide by the rules if they’d like to keep using their phone.
The bottom line is that you can’t assume anything about what your child does and doesn’t know about mobile devices. Perhaps they’ve learned from an older brother or sister or peers but make sure the information they have is the information you want them to have. Spending some time establishing ground rules, modeling the behavior you expect, and upholding consequences will help your child turn in to a responsible mobile phone user.
Chances are you’re not giving your child an unlimited plan right off the bat. Starting your child off with a limited plan for their first phone is a good idea. They don’t need all the bells and whistles right off the bad. A certain number of minutes for talk time and allocation for texts makes them more conscious of how they’re using their phone to communicate. As they get older and demonstrate increased responsibility, reevaluate their plan based on their needs.
I was compensated to share the AT&T Family Safety Program through a series of Safety School events for my community. This post was inspired by the meeting I held with a middle school Girl Scout troop. All opinions are my own. Images courtesy of AT&T.