Is Your Teen Ready For a Cell Phone?
A distraught mother approached me after my parenting workshop and expressed heartache. Heartache over how the relationship with her child had changed after he was given a phone. It was a story I was familiar with, a story I heard from many parents.
These experiences directly influenced our decision about when and how our own teenager would be given the opportunity to manage a phone. Have you ever wondered if your child is ready for a cell phone?
Time and time again I watched parents hand over a cell phone and lose part of a relationship with their child. The relationship often transformed into something negative, which revolved around power struggles with the cell phone. The teen wanted more freedom, time, and privacy with the cell phone, while parents demanded less. Power struggles turned into resentment, and relationships were harmed. It wasn’t a coincidence; it was a pattern.
This pattern motivated my husband and I to develop Phone School, a program that would ease the transition of managing a cell phone, while also keeping the relationships intact. This program is more than just a quick contract, it guides and empowers the teen to be responsible with cell phone use. Teens learn that managing a cell phone is an opportunity, not a right. Their emotional maturity largely influences their outcome of more phone freedom.
A key component to Phone School is the educational experience. It provides an opportunity for the teen to be fully involved in understanding how to manage a cell phone responsibly. Teens will not passively listen to expectations. Instead, they will learn, write, report, and agree on expectations. The teen will watch educational clips, take a quick quiz, research various topics about cell phones, write an essay, present the essay to parents, fill out a contract with the parent, and receive a certificate of completion.
Phone School provides a way for parents and teens to get on the same page, communicate effectively, establish expectations, and make a positive plan. Depending on the teen’s motivational level, Phone School can be completed within a few hours or less.
This program guides teens through the process of understanding that a phone is a tool to benefit their lives, instead of an appendage that needs to always be with them and addicted to. It empowers the teen to have emotional maturity by responsibly managing the cell phone, creating realistic boundaries, and living a more meaningful life.
The effects of cell phone use are all over the spectrum. Higher rates of depression, eating disorders, and suicide have been found in multiple studies as kids are getting cell phones and social media at younger and younger ages. Who would have thought a handheld device could have such a negative impact?
How is it possible to land on one end of the spectrum rather than the other? Expectations.
Some parents give their teen a cell phone and hope for the best, with little to no defined expectations. The outcomes are typically unfortunate. Other parents wonder if it is possible to establish clear and realistic expectations with their teen and the cell phone. Yes, it is possible. It will take an involved parent who cares enough to set limits and boundaries, and have a specific plan. Phone School provides a plan that guides parents and teens as they establish expectations and create healthy habits with cell phones.
An insightful article written by Chris Cochran, an assistant principal, highlights the need for parents to be involved in their teen’s cell phone use. Cochran expresses shocking concern over the content he finds on teen cell phones, and the lack of parental involvement.
A proactive parent realizes the need for clearly defined expectations. Instead of handing over the cell phone and hoping for the best, they take time to involve the teen in the process. When teens are involved in establishing the expectations, instead of just told the expectations, they are more likely to understand the WHY behind the boundaries and limits.
As the teen goes through Phone School, they learn key principles that can benefit them immediately and throughout their lives. Some key principles include: putting people before the device, showing emotional maturity, putting the cell phone away during meal time, not having it in their bedroom at night time, committing to an internal filter, and respecting boundaries.
The key to successfully establishing boundaries is being an involved parent who remains involved. There are great resources to assist parents in this big transition. Parents do not need to reinvent the wheel, they can use Phone School and look into additional resources. Family Tech University focuses on strengthening the internal filter, so when your teens aren’t at home they can still make wise choices. Better Screen Time offers positive strategies as you manage tech in your home.
Emotional Maturity Over Age
“But, all my friends have one!”
“It’s not fair! She got a phone at age _____.”
“I’m the only person without a phone. It’s embarrassing!”
Though your teen’s birthday may be coming up, you may be worried that they just aren't ready for the expectation of managing a phone responsibly. Maybe they throw tantrums when they don’t get their way, use inappropriate language, show disrespect to family members, sneak or hide behavior. Age does not determine maturity.
The number of candles on a birthday cake doesn’t determine emotional maturity. Good behavior reveals emotional maturity. When you are wondering if your teen is ready to manage a cell phone, use this simple list to determine if they are an appropriate age AND exhibits emotionally mature.
- Takes responsibility for themselves, their emotions, and their mistakes.
- Resets when necessary. STOP - APOLOGIZE - START OVER
- Exhibits a positive attitude and is kind to everyone.
- Has integrity. Chooses the right even when no one else is around.
- Commits to an internal filter by choosing to view appropriate material.
- Talks with parents when there is a problem.
An Agreement, Not a Gift
Cell phones should not be given as a gift. But, if you have already given it as a gift, it is not too late. You are the parent and can change the expectations, and your teen can still benefit by going through Phone School.
Instead of a gift, you should explain to your teen that a cell phone is paid for and owned by you, and responsibly managed by them as they exhibit emotional maturity. To avoid this disappointing experience, you should resolve to emotionally prepare the child for Phone School, and not give a cell phone as a gift.
Most gifts don’t come with requirements and expectations. Gifts are typically given with no strings attached. Expecting your teen to properly prepare by going through Phone School could feel like strings attached, if they are not emotionally prepared for that expectation.
As the parent, you emotionally prepare your teen for the Phone School experience. You do this by talking about it with them when they express interest in a cell phone. When teens are emotionally prepared for Phone School, they are motivated to complete the program and start managing a cell phone.
Prepared for Disappointment
Disappointment is a natural emotion that we shouldn’t ignore. When your child is disappointed, you can simply validate without giving in to the child’s behavior.
Teens often compare their circumstances with their peers. If they don’t get a cell phone around the same time as their friends, they will likely start complaining. You can prepare yourself for this type of behavior by expecting your child’s disappointment. Rather than complaining about your child’s complaining and adding fuel to the fire, you can show confidence by calmly validating your teen.
“I understand that it’s frustrating for you that you don’t have a phone to manage yet.”
When the child continues to complain, the parent continues to remain calm.
“I understand. You are gaining more and more emotional maturity, so that you’ll have an opportunity to manage a cell phone soon.”
Let the child know that you believe in them.
When your teen has calmed down, find opportunities to explain what it means to be emotionally mature. You should again express encouragement and confidence that your teen can become emotionally mature by having a good attitude.
It’s Never Too Late
Have you already given your teen a cell phone, but it isn’t going well? Maybe you didn’t realize the harmful effects of entrusting them with a phone without first establishing appropriate boundaries?
It is not too late.
You can change expectations, deal with disappointment, and establish better boundaries. All of this can be accomplished without taking their phone away. Plan a time when you can talk with your teen about changing expectations and quickly going through Phone School. I strongly suggest including a special treat while having this conversation ;).
Be sure to emotionally prepare yourself for their disappointment, and commit to remain calm and confident.
You can explain the importance of devising a better plan that will benefit everyone and strengthen relationships. Explain that it will take their emotional maturity to have a good attitude while expectations are changing. Inform your teen that Phone School can be completed within a few hours or less.
Worth the Effort
Properly preparing your teen to manage a cell phone is worth the time and effort.
A cell phone will likely be a part of their lives for the rest of their lives. It’s important to guide them in the right direction by establishing healthy habits with the device at a young age.
As you express confidence in your teen, encourage them, and praise their emotional maturity, you can strengthen the relationship with your teen while also setting boundaries.
Many parents wish they had taken more time to properly prepare their child for a cell phone and created better limits. Instead of entering this phase with regret, feel prepared and empowered with Phone School. As we take time to listen to other parents who wish they would have done things a little differently, we can become more prepared. Brooke Romney offers great suggestions for parents.
Power struggles can be replaced with realistic expectations and healthy cell phone habits. Strained relationships can become strengthened relationships.