5 Conversations To Have With Your Teen About Cell Phone Use
And so it began...
When I first considered the question of whether or not I should get a cell phone for my daughter, she was not even a teenager yet. Perhaps our situation was not unique. I (mom/head of household) had carried a cell phone for a couple of years. Between my tight schedule and the ever-accumulating amount of passwords and portals I had to remember, my home phone had just become one more burdensome outlet that demanded my attention for no good reason approximately 99% of the time it ever actually rang. So I shut it off and transitioned to full dependence on my cell phone while she was still in her early years of elementary school.
At the time it worked out great. And I was thrilled for our budget to be free of the bill.
Then she hit that magical age where she was finally old enough to start taking the school bus to and from school and stay home by herself for short increments of time as I fulfilled my work schedule responsibilities. But we ran into a bit of a quandary.... What if she needed to reach me? Or what if there was an emergency? We had no phone at home.
I debated the question of restoring my home phone versus adding a second line to my cell plan, and the latter ended up winning at the time. We made strict rules and she followed them - the delightfully obedient pre-pubescent fifth grader that she was. She was only allowed to contact close family members if needed. This was before data packages so she did not have access to the internet on her phone. For a short time.
Even in a short couple of years the evolution and prevalence of cellular technology has exploded so rapidly that it has become the norm for most members of every household to have their own mobile phone.
I sometimes wonder - Do we even take the time anymore to consider the complexity and the power of what we are handing our children and young adults when we decide to give them a cell phone? The following are five topics you should discuss regularly with your teenager if they carry their own cell phone.
To be completely honest, I started to hear this word for years before I ever knew what it meant. If you still don't know what it means, let me help you out: Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages and or photos between mobile phones. When I was growing up all I knew was that people could call 900 numbers and pay a lot of money for "phone sex." Forgive me, I still don't know what that means. But I think we could safely conclude that evolution has replaced 900 numbers with sexting. And our teenagers can do it practically for free. Standard messaging rates apply.
My bigger concern here is the alarming rates at which teenagers are being coerced by their partners into sending nude pictures of themselves to each other. According to a study of 480 young adults by developmental psychologist Dr. Michelle Drouin, approximately 1 in 5 participants indicated they had been manipulated into sexting their partner when they did not want to. Reasons for submitting ranged from feeling obligated after repeated asking to physical threats.
Teenagers do not often realize the long term effects of a single bad choice. If you need help talking to your child about the seriousness of sexting, I encourage you to watch this video and consider sharing it with her.
2. The Ability to Inadvertently Gain a Criminal Record
Because of sexting, our teens have a way to get into some serious trouble with potentially life altering consequences. In 2009, an 18 year old Texas boy was convicted on felony charges and required to register as a sex offender for texting nude photos of his 16 year old girlfriend to family and friends late one night after the couple had an argument. In 2013, a 16 year old Canadian girl was convicted of child pornography for posting nude photos of her boyfriend's former girlfriend to social media. In 2014, 70+ teenagers in Oakland County Michigan were thought to be involved in a sexting scandal comprised of taking and forwarding nude photos. At one point during the investigation 31 students faced the possibility of felony charges for their involvement.
There is no doubt that all of these teenagers made bad choices. What should be motivating us to have these conversations is the brutality of the consequences for their poor judgment. As a parent of a teenager I witness her bad choices pretty frequently, but I recognize that they are part of the awkward phase of life she is in. I have come to understand that it is necessary for her to make bad choices and suffer the consequences of them so that she can grow from them and learn not to repeat them. Unfortunately a mistake she could make with a cell phone could affect the rest of her life.
The following tips should be shared with your child regarding this matter:
- For any message they ever consider texting, if they would not send the message to their parents, they should not send it to anyone.
- If they receive a message containing explicit content, they should delete it right away.
- They should never, EVER, forward a message or picture containing sexually explicit material
- Even if they delete it, police can still retrieve it. So they should not be tempted to 'joke' around by taking, sending, asking for, receiving, or forwarding nude pictures
3. Cell Phone Use and Driving
According to teendriversource.org, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death for adolescents, and a third of teens surveyed reported texting or emailing while driving in the prior month. The site also reports that cell phone use behind the wheel reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%. In 2013, 963,000 teen drivers were involved in motor vehicle crashes reported to police nationwide. The accidents resulted in 383,000 injuries and 2,865 deaths.
Consider adopting one simple rule for your teenage driver regarding their cell phone:
- TURN IT OFF. Teens should be advised to keep their cell phone turned off while driving. The split second distraction caused by a ringing or buzzing phone can have devastating and often deadly consequences. Most states have laws that prohibit or limit the use of cell phones while driving. Some states are passing laws that are even stricter for young drivers.
4. Identity Confusion
To be perfectly honest, as I started to see some of the red flags concerning how my daughter used her phone, my version of identity confusion was based on my own concern about her texting messages that I knew she would not say to a person if she was face to face with them. Then I started researching the issue and found that not only is it real, but it applies exactly to her age group! The late American Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson described ages 13-19 as the 'Identity vs. Role Confusion' stage of psychosocial development. As teens struggle along to develop a sense of self and personal identity, they are highly occupied with the concern of how they appear to others.
It is intriguing to me how people take on a persona or tone in their expression using cell phones or social media that is a significant deviation from how they act in person. I've seen messages from my own daughter that project a completely different tone and attitude than the person I, my family, her teachers, and her youth group leaders know her to be. I was shocked one time when I confiscated her phone to see text messages between her and a friend full of explicit verbiage and bold assertions. I know that kids act differently around their peers than they do around adults, and I'm not naive to the reality of the teenagers' attempts to be taken seriously as they transition from child to young adult. My concern is that the projected tone from both kids was much bolder and more aggressive than either of them ever act socially in real life situations, so I am left wondering how healthy it is for their development to hide behind these alter personalities by way of the texting capabilities on their cell phones.
Encourage your teen to refrain from having emotional conversations via text. Arguments, professions of emotions (positive and negative), ending relationships, etc., should never occur in this format. Suggest that if they have are in a situation where they are tempted to text for one of these reasons, that they take the initiative to suggest meeting in person or at least a phone call instead.
5. Development of Bad Grammar Habits
Am I the only parent who is constantly appalled by the lack of proper grammar that young people use for texting? The fear of my daughter never correctly learning how to write an essay for high school due to horrible spelling, grammar, and punctuation is the same reason I never let her get hooked on the Junie B. Jones book series that was so popular during her early childhood. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Junie chronicles - they are very cute and funny books designed to appear as though they are written by a first grader, lacking any proper grammar whatsoever. My opinion is that the Junie's target audience of elementary school readers in the prime of their development of learning how to write properly is a bit of a conundrum...)
My rule in my house is that if she is not able to send me a message without utilizing our primary language properly, she is not ready for the privilege of having a phone with texting capabilities. As a mom, I'm hoping in sticking with this decision that I'm helping to set her up for success with her future education and employers.
As parents we would be foolish to ignore the possibility of any of these concerns affecting our children. We make it ridiculously easy for them to end up in a precarious situation by handing them a cell phone and not taking the time to appreciate the potential power in their hands. A cell phone can be a powerful tool for great communication and organization. It can equally be the source of negative and destructive consequences. Have conversations about responsible cell phone use regularly and be sure to enforce consequences for misuse. Good luck!
For more information about teen issues related to cell phone and social media issues, check out the website below: