Even though most children now have cell phones, and while these devices seem like a necessary accessory for pre-teens and adolescents, parents should remind their children — on a regular basis — that cell phones are not toys. Mobile phones are sophisticated communication tools that also happen to entertain in many ways. They are fun to use, however, all family members need to learn as much as possible about the power of cell phones. The 2009 document Cell Phone Guide for Families With Children: Everything You Need to Know, written by Carnegie Mellon University’s My Secure Cyberspace, provides comprehensive information on cell phones. Another document from the same source is Should Your Child Have a Cell Phone?
A gadget orientation is critical. Before handing over a new mobile phone to a child, take the time to go over general guidelines and expectations. Review these expectations regularly, and update them each time a child’s gets a phone upgrade. Parents may also consider setting up a cell phone contract that spells out how a cell phone expectations and possible consequences when a child breaks the rules.
Give special attention, as often as possible, to the phone’s digital camera. We know that children, as they are moving into and through adolescence, can behave impulsively, and a digital camera allows an impulsive idea to become public and embarrassing in an instant. Ben Franklin’s adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is timely and relevant, even in the digital age. The more we discuss potential digital image problems with children, the greater the chance that they will think before snapping inappropriate pictures.
Before purchasing a phone, find out what features can be controlled and monitored by parents. What phone functions can be turned off by a parent or by the phone company?
Don’t forget about timing. As a family, decide when cell phones can be used in the house and when they will be off-limits. Will there be phone-free times? Perhaps family members can leave phones in a location away from the dining room table at meal times. Moreover, many families now charge phones overnight in a central location away from bedrooms.
Finally, setting an example with phone or PDA is one of the most effective teaching strategies that a parent can use. In the final analysis, a parent’s actions speak even louder than words.