Kids and Mobile Phones: 4 Ways to Keep them Safe
By Karen Campbell McGinn
“I can’t believe Jenny is old enough for a cell phone already. I’m scared. How do I keep her safe? Am I worrying too much?” This is the frantic question a young mom of one of my students asked me last week. I calmly reassured her she is not worrying too much.
Consider these points:
• 96% of parents believe their teens have never texted while driving. 45% of teens admit they routinely text while driving. Wow!
• Research shows that almost all kids who keep their mobile phones in their bedroom overnight will answer a late-night text. Also, most of them have spent at least a few late nights sending texts.
• 50% of kids say they are addicted to their phones and worry they are using them way too much. 36% of parents admit they have daily disagreements with their kiddos about phone usage.
Scary, right? You bet. But take a minute and honestly consider your own experience with your cell. If you are like most adults, you know it takes a fair amount of self-discipline to manage the responsibility of a cell phone. And with some kids, they are not ready for that responsibility before middle or even high school.
Middle and high schoolers are notorious for not having as much impulse control as a parent would like. This is due to the underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex, the center of executive functioning of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is involved in managing complex processes like logic, reason, problem solving, planning and memory. As you can imagine, it plays a significant part in directing attention, developing and pursuing goals and inhibiting counterproductive impulses.
Young tweens/teens have a difficult time managing the temptations of sexting, addictive games on computers and social media. Handing them a phone that they can use constantly, without supervision, is asking for trouble. It’s like giving them an addictive substance and then not monitoring them. Luckily, communication and supervision can dramatically lessen the risks. Here’s how –
1. Set-up a contract, before the first call. Many parents think a contract with their child is silly and unnecessary. But a written agreement is a great way for your child to step into this new responsibility without you ‘over-parenting.’ Decide on the rules with your child’s input. Consider their rules along with your rules and negotiate until you are satisfied with the results.
2. Talk, talk, talk and listen. At the family meal or in the car, comment on news stories that involve cell phones, from driving deaths due to texting to sexting. Ask your child’s opinion on these subjects and listen to their answer.
Take Snapchat for example. Ask your child if they think sending nude selfies via Snapchat is acceptable because the photo will self-destruct. Discuss with them the fact that the receiver of their picture can take a screenshot of that picture without their knowledge, before it self-destructs. Is your child aware that having a photo of a naked underage person on their phone is illegal?
3. Be smart about smart phones. Most phones offer web access, mobile apps and parental control apps. iPhones have built-in parental controls that can be enabled. If your child is going to use a phone and you’re concerned about what they might find online, choose a phone with limited internet access or turn on web filtering.
The phone itself should give you some choices for privacy settings and child safety controls. If that isn’t enough, contact your cell phone provider for current options. Most carriers allow you to turn off features like web access, texting or downloading. There are even some mobile phones made specifically for kids. They are easy to use and have features like limited internet access, number privacy and emergency buttons.
4. Set an example. In many states it’s illegal to drive, and certainly dangerous, while surfing the web, texting or talking on the phone without a hands-free device. Remember – your kids are watching everything you do. So set a good example for them and while you’re at it, talk to them about the consequences and dangers of distracted driving.
Karen Campbell McGinn Teacher. Tutor. Author.
Educator, turned writer. As a teacher in Philadelphia and Bucks County for over 30 years, Karen has tons of experience and knowledge to pass on to families. Given a simple topic, Karen uses her first hand experience, wit and humor to make the complex... well, simple. Check out her articles on "Judgement Call, Decoding the Teenage Brain" and "Teach Your Children Well: Disability Awareness" plus tons more. Keyword Search "Karen Campbell McGinn" or search Features/Education.