Setting Appropriate Cell Phone Boundaries
What makes cell phones so challenging is that they are no longer just cell phones. Most are cameras, gaming systems, and internet terminals all in one hard-to-keep-track-of package. Being able to talk with friends via cell phone has always been popular with kids, but access to e-mail, Web pages, online games, and more has become increasingly common. For this reason, it’s important to set boundaries for cell phone use. If you don’t, your child will be tempted to use his cell phone all the time—and in ways you may not like.
- Choose a cell phone plan for your child with reasonable limits. If you don’t want your child to have internet access on his or her cell phone, don’t buy a phone that is internet-enabled. (They cost more anyway.)
- Find out what types of parental controls are available on your child’s cell phone. Common parental controls include filtering explicit content. Another parental control blocks the purchases of ringtones, graphics, and online games. One of the leaders in parental controls for cell phones is AT&T. Visit AT&T for more information
- Keep cell phone use in check. Try creating cell-phone-free zones, such as by having a basket where family members deposit their cell phones while you eat dinner. If you subscribe to a data plan or have a phone that can access the internet, TV, or video, set limits on screen time—just like you would with your family television. Then monitor what your child is watching. Read more about mobile apps
- Set a good example. Parents can be just as absorbed in their cell phones and Blackberries as kids can. Model balanced, respectful cell phone use.
- Talk about cell phone bullying. Ask your kids to let you know if they get harassing text messages or phone calls. Make it clear that you will not tolerate any type of bullying. Read more about bullying and cyberbullying
- Make sure kids understand that they are not to use a cell phone while driving a car—this includes both talking and texting. See tips about this subject from the American Psychological Association
- Talk to your kids about “sexting” (sending sexually-suggestive photos or comments through text messages). Make sure they understand that sexually inappropriate language and pictures are not allowed. Read more about legal issues and sexting
- Tell your kids not to share their cell phone number online, especially to people they don’t know, even if they’ve been talking with them for a while in a chat room or through instant messaging. Encourage them not to put cell phone numbers (or any phone numbers) on their Facebook page. Read more about online safety
- Make sure you set meaningful consequences for violations of your family’s cell phone rules, and consistently follow through with those consequences. Don’t be afraid to take away your child’s cell phone if she doesn’t follow the rules. Yes, it costs money to have a cell phone sitting there without being used, but your child won’t learn how to use it appropriately if you let her set all the rules.
The rate of technology advance in cell phones can be staggering—and keeping up with how your kids use them can be just as difficult. But by using the parental controls available to you, setting expectations, enforcing boundaries with discipline, and talking regularly with your kids about proper cell phone use, you can help them learn to navigate the world of cellular technology responsibly and safely.