Question: Our oldest child has started driving and all of our kids are constantly on the move. My spouse thinks they need cell phones in order to stay better connected with us. Do you think this is a good idea?


The answer to your question is yes and no. A great deal depends on your family situation, the maturity level of your kids, and the values you've attempted to instill in them during their growing-up years. Technology can benefit us in many ways, but it also has its downside. Your spouse is absolutely right about the importance of maintaining connections with your children in today's uncertain and fast-paced world. But this is not to say that the plan you're considering doesn't merit a second look. It comes with its fair share of legitimate reasons for concern.

Laying down ground rules

If you do decide to hand out phones to every member of the family, it would be best to preface your action by laying down some ground rules. Call a sit-down family meeting and make it clear to your kids that if they are to have their own cell phones, there will be a number of specific rules and guidelines they'll need to follow. We'd suggest that you include the following.

Make them responsible for the cost

For most families, one of the biggest issues connected with cell phone use is the question of cost. It's extremely easy for the average teen or pre-teen to use up his or her monthly allowance of minutes in less than a week. For this reason, our first recommendation is that you require your kids to pay their own phone bills. That's a completely reasonable expectation for most teenagers. You may opt to help with the cost, of course – that's your prerogative – but in that case you should set a limit on the number of minutes your children will be allowed to call each week. If they go over that limit, they'll be responsible for the extra charges. If they don't pay up by a predetermined deadline, you'll need to "pull the plug" on the cell phone. You should also set limits on the number of minutes they can spend on the phone at home. One hour per evening is more than enough. And it's certainly appropriate to require that they finish their homework and chores before engaging in any chit-chat.

Explain the risks of distracted driving

Second, driving and talking on the phone don't mix. [Editor’s note: What’s more, in Canada, using a hand-held cell phone while driving is illegal in most provinces. Be very clear in insisting that your child upholds the law.] Research has demonstrated that a driver's reaction time is significantly affected when he or she is talking on a cell phone – even if it's a hands-free set-up. Tell your kids that if they must use the phone in the car, you expect them to pull over and stop before having a conversation. Of course you can't monitor them for compliance, but let them know that any cell phone-related accidents will result in the loss of the phone and their driving privileges.

Have a discussion about appropriate use

Third, we can assume that teenage boys and girls have been spending a fair amount of time talking to each other on the phone ever since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. You aren't going to be able to stop this kind of thing from happening – there's no way to countermand the natural attraction between the sexes. But it's important to bear in mind that today's world is very different from the one in which most moms and dads established their earliest connections with members of the opposite sex. If your kids are going to have their own cell phones, you need to teach them – male and female alike – to be cautious and discerning. "Sexting" – the practice of exchanging sexually themed text messages and photos over the phone – has become a serious issue among teens in the past couple of years. The same observation applies to Internet browsing, email, and instant messaging. If you aren’t regularly discussing male-female relationships, safety issues and sexual purity with your kids, now might be a good time to begin.

© 2010 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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