Teenagers live a volatile existence, particularly when it comes to spiritual issues. Independent of physical danger and inappropriate content, the overuse of cell phones and mobile devices carries a risk of emotional isolation that leads a teenager into a cycle of increasingly risky behaviors. Teens may become overly connected with friends and other influences outside the family, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to predators and other high-risk behaviors.
Here are some guidelines that may help you as you parent teenagers into proper cell phone usage.
Consider check-out phones for younger teens. It is difficult to track and manage content on a cell phone, particularly when that phone is in your child’s possession 24/7. Young teens don’t need to go to bed with their cell phone in their hands. Consider using a phone that you can check-out to younger teens as they go off to activities, or when they have a particular need. Doing so gives them an opportunity to develop skills without being thrown into the deep end.
Understand all the features of your teen’s phone. Capabilities vary from phone to phone and between providers. It will take a little homework, but it’s important that you understand what your teen’s phone is capable of. It’s also important to understand the types of parental controls and filters available through your service provider. You may also be able to use parental controls such as limiting texting and phone to certain times of the day (teenagers typically have little to no legitimate need to be texting friends from their bed at 2:00 a.m.). In some cases you may have a need to block a particular number or perhaps to provide a set of allowed numbers with all others blocked by default.
Check your teen’s phone usage. Providers tend to have their hands tied when it comes to disclosing the content in text messages, even when you own the device and pay the bills. But you can typically see detailed usage reports by logging into your service provider. You can see the times at which messages were received and the phone number of the individual with whom the messages are exchanged. If you have teens and have never done this, I’d recommend you do it as an exercise in digital enlightenment.
On a related note, check your monthly bill for additional charges. Some providers allow a cell phone user to turn on the Internet on a handset by simply agreeing to charges. You wouldn’t know it happened unless you checked your bill. Teens might also purchase wallpaper or ring tones that would also show up on your cell phone bill.
The “no computer in the bedroom” rule is now much more complicated. Cell phones and tablets are high powered personal computers in a small form factor. Being diligent to keep computers out of a child’s bedroom while giving them unfettered access to the Internet via a smart phone is inconsistent. Remember that wherever you might use the term “computer,” you can substitute “smartphone” or “tablet.”
Foster proper attitudes about mobile devices. While this may come as a news flash to many teenagers, a cell phone is not a basic human right. As the parent, you ultimately control their access to technology. They need to understand that electronic devices are a privilege that can be earned as well as lost.
Reach out to your teens on their terms. I could summarize this by saying, “Text your teens.” Cell phones and text messaging are not evil—they are tools that can be used or misused. Demonstrate proper behaviors to your children and lead by example. You may find that you can have a positive spiritual impact on your teenager by reaching out via text messaging. In fact, sometimes in parent-teen relationships there are times when the face-to-face moment may be burdened. A well-placed text message may help break the ice and spark a conversation.