In this post, there are some personal experiences to help you with your decision. I’ve also included some things to think about like safeguards, boundaries, and guidelines before your family takes the plunge. Your decision may depend on how old your kids are and the exposure they’ve had to cell phones.
Take my two grandsons, 3 and 1 ½ years old for example, they’ve been watching their parents from birth, click, swipe and text regularly. Then we add AI (Siri and Google) to the mix, and you have babies commanding technology to play their favourite Wiggles song. One of Silas’ first 20 words was “Google!”
I imagine it looks to them like it’s an extension of their parent’s hands, so familiar that they might be ready for a cell phone earlier than expected.
Your family situation may look similar to that of my grandchildren. Your kids may already have exposure to using your cell phone. Thinking realistically, they may know how to operate a cell phone but are they ready for the responsibility. It’s a whole different ball of wax to hand over a personal device to your kids and leave it up to them to be responsible for it and know how to use it effectively.
This is a different world than the one that I grew up in and I do understand that it’s unavoidable for young families in the 21st century. I also think that it’s a decision that each individual family needs to assess and determine independently. Kids are all different, you know yours best.
Weighing in on Your Family Values
Weighing in on family values is the approach that we took when we had to make a decision around a societal norm, like cable TV. Trust me, it was hard to make the decision not to have cable TV when most of our kids friends did.
We decided that our kids first cell phones would have to be purchased with their own money and they would have to manage thereafter. In turn, they needed to be old enough to enter into a contract and have jobs that would support the cost.
It was hard to hold true to our family values, our kids pressured us constantly and questioned “why.” A family value that I was brought up with was having respect when speaking to an adult. Right now, you are probably asking why is she bringing this into the blog.
I might be a few generations ahead and measuring how I was brought up. However, I still think that there is some value in having respect with regards to how we speak to our parents/elders. Now that kids are communicating to us using technology, it’s important to talk about how they are communicating a message. How they communicate to (parents, grandparents, and friends) probably looks very different.
Who Makes The Decisions?
Today having two-way conversations with our kids seems to be more acceptable. When I was a kid, my parents view was, “it’s my way, or the highway!” Communicating effectively and including our kids in making important decisions, like getting a cell phone, helps build their problem-solving skills and confidence. It means that we value their opinions and don’t always make all the choices for them. They learn that most decisions are up for discussion and negotiable.
When I was growing up, kids were “seen, not heard” — it felt like a “dictatorship.” I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion, what my parents said and told me to do — was LAW! Today’s parents are much better at having open dialogues with their kids and including them in deciding family values. I’m sure it feels like we are in a court room with our kids and the best lawyer in town is negotiating their case.
It’s important to let them share in the decision-making process and help include their own values into that of the families.
Guidelines, Etiquette and Limits
Setting guidelines, etiquette and limits is key to the success of your children’s cell phone habits and connectivity. Kids can become addicted and obsessed with their technology very quickly.
Cell phone etiquette is a very important conversation. Kids can make poor choices around how to use their phones. Keep them safe and help them understand how powerful this new tool is. Setting clear guidelines around messaging, content and what to share and not to share, helps them make informed choices.
Set up some guidelines for how they use their devices, both over the telephone and in person. Understand that we are not always going to get it right. More importantly, we all need to respect each other’s communication styles, factor in their feelings and emotions to figure out the best way to communicate. Have a conversation about different generations and what they expect or are used to. Grandma and grandpa may prefer a telephone call or FaceTime instead of a text.
Research has proven that cell phone behaviour is habitual, even subliminal — like phantom vibration or sleep insomnia. Set limits for them or work through guidelines around their use.
I read these studies and thought that they were a good source of information around cell phone behaviour. How it can become habitual and addictive, and how our brains seek out the natural pleasure of the dopamine. Setting boundaries around communicating with cell phones is important.
Setting Boundaries for Your Kids First Cell Phone
There are important conversations to be had before handing over a cell phone to your kids. What does the responsibility of having a cell phone mean for you and your kids.
Having a plan ahead of time so that everyone is clear on its use and guidelines is key to them having a successful relationship with their phone and managing all the pressures that come with it. Setting clear expectations is a good thing. Kids actually love family values and boundaries, it can relieve stress for them when they have guidelines to follow.
Boundaries come in handy especially with their friends and “peer pressure.” Set parental boundaries, so that they can be used as an “out,” especially when they are dealing with pushy friends that are testing them. In our house, we had a couple of “rule followers” and when they were being challenged by friends, I’d say, “blame it on me,” tell them: “my parents will take away my phone if I do that!”
These boundaries can help them make better choices — it gives them an out and some answers in their “toolbox” to pull out as needed. It’s important to plan ahead for these types of scenarios, rather than being put on the spot.
Communicate and Connect as a Family
We all develop our own communication style, and your kids are no different. Understanding the way that they communicate is important to making sure that you’re communicating effectively. Kids have their own cell phone jargon and ways of communicating. They chat on their phones using acronyms, emojis and a lingo that sometimes feels like “morse code.”
Here are some great resources for you to check out on keeping up with the “Gen Z’s” of the world.
Messages can be interpreted differently for many reasons. How you interpret a message could depend on the frame of mind you are in at that moment. It might be that it’s generational and the way you were taught to write a message was different.
You may want to check out Lisa’s very popular blog post on Listening to your Kids: The Secret to Creating a Connected Family. This post is about creating a connected family so that these conversations happen readily and easily.
What Did You Say?
Messages can be delivered and interpreted in so many different ways, it’s important to clarify when a message seems misunderstood or not quite the way you had expected it.
On that note, I’m brought back in time to a conversation that I had with one of my kids around asking them if they wanted to do something. The response was: “I’m down for that!” In my world it was: “I’m up for that!” Or how about: “just send it!” What do you suppose that means? In my kid’s generation that means: “just go for it” or “let it rip!”
I’ve misinterpreted many messages, and/or taken them the wrong way. I think I’d be safe to say that we could all come up with one or two of our own misread or misinterpreted text messages at one point or another.
The important point I’d like to make is that communication is the key factor in making sure that we get each other’s messages the way that they were intended. I would suggest just coming right out and asking what that person meant if you think it’s offensive or you simply don’t understand.
In the case of my son, it should have been a conversation about “IDK” right away instead of me thinking that he just didn’t “kare” LOL! What he was saying is “I don’t know”! I just kept seeing it misspelt as I don’t kare.
Healthy Well-Balanced Day
As I was doing my research on this subject, I came across an extensive Canadian article written by Media Smarts, The Digital Well-Being of Canadian Families.
Rather than “helicoptering” kids, perhaps the best way to teach them what a well-balanced day looks like before they hit their screens, is to break it down for them and show them what a well-balanced day looks (see below). Try to fuel your kids thinking around managing, rather than controlling.
Ask your kids if they’ve thought about and included some balance into their daily overall well-being, before sitting down to an hour of screen time. Kids thrive on responsibility, creating a schedule and time blocking helps them visually see the whole picture. Have they taken care of some of the important daily tasks first, does the screen time relate to homework or research assignments? Is their screen time for pleasure or downtime?
Scheduling – Well-Balanced Day
Here’s what a well-balanced day might include:
- Homework/assignments: do you have deadlines are they complete?
- Exercise/sports commitments: what is your physical activity for the day?
- Mindfulness/journaling/yoga: are you practicing wellness?
- Family contribution: what have you done today to contribute to family responsibilities?
Before you ask your kids to behave in a certain way, ask yourself: Am I modelling a well-balanced day?
Code of Conduct
Implementing a code of conduct around their new cell phone could be something to think about. A conversation around how it’s used, what’s appropriate and how it can be misused.
We’ve all had the dreaded “CRA” call on our phones… .
Ask them to help create the “code of conduct.” Work through a plan together, role play scenarios: if this happens, how should I respond or react; when do I need a parent’s help; what do I do if someone calls and says a family member or close friend is in trouble. These are just some of the things that might come up. Maybe you develop a code word for emergency situations.
There should be many conversations around “the good, the bad, and the ugly” when it comes to managing a cell phone. Consider what words and terms they need to understand, for example: what does fraud mean or predator.
A Few Words to Consider
Here are some words that you should consider having a conversation about:
The last two points may seem obvious, consider having a conversation around these two words and the implications they might have. Have you ever handed over your VISA and discovered a new charge related to an app or download? You may not be there just yet, but it’s definitely something to think about and discuss when the time comes.
My Two Cents
Making the decision to give your kids a cell phone is a very BIG “next step!” Working with them and coming up with a plan for their new cell phone gives them some responsibility and autonomy. You’re showing them that you trust them to make good decisions and giving them some choices and independence.
Handing over a cell phone can be exciting and scary at the same time. Planning is the key message in this post. A well thought out plan and process can be positive — think of it as a natural progression to their development and maturity.
There is so much to talk about around this topic, I feel like I could go on for a week. I’ll end this here with a big hat’s off to all parents — YOU GOT THIS!!!