Picture your little girl or guy sitting on the couch with their device in hand playing Words with Friends. He or she is so precious to you. You’d do anything you could to protect them. In fact you’ve already…
disabled Safari and installed another internet browser like K9 or Mobicip
set restrictions on their devices that are locked with a pass code such as installing apps or making in-app purchases, removing location settings on photos and other apps, and maybe you even install a tracking device such as find my iPhone.
You’d never imagine as they sit there they are doing anything that could hurt them. But chances of them getting burned are still high. Why? They’re kids who know technology well. Where there’s a will there’s a way.
I’m so thankful that we experienced this early on. I share this with you only because the lessons we learned as parents are incredibly valuable. I’ve asked permission of my oldest to share her story with you, but I’d appreciate it if you know my kids that you don’t share it with your own. My goal is not to humiliate my kids, it’s to educate parents.
In our ignorance we had allowed both of our girls to use apps like TextNow to keep in touch with grandparents and a handful of named friends on their ipod touch devices. However, around third grade when the kids at school started getting cell phones, our oldest began to feel left out. The conversations on the playground had already begun to revolve around who texted who what.
In this desire to connect, our oldest began pushing the boundaries. We decided it was setting them up for bad habits when the ability to really text friends came along. There were really no rules except your only allowed to text these people.
At that point we sat down and had a conversation with each other, then her.
“Mom and Dad would never take a burning log out of a fire and place it in your hands. You know that right?”
“You know that if we had no other choice than to do that, we would protect you first. We would put fire proof gloves on your hands and probably even an entire Fireman’s suit and helmet on you because fire hurts and it leaves lasting scars.”
“That’s what this device is. It’s fire. Even with all the protective pieces we’ve put on it, you still have the potential to get burned. And if that happens, the reality is, it won’t just hurt, it will probably leave a scar. This is why we are adding another layer of protection with guardrails. Here are the specific rules regarding your text-now app.”
We thought we were clear. No texting boys for any reason. No texting after 7 on a school night. No badgering of friends or family when they don’t answer. AND use some etiquette.
There were just a few rules and all were broke the first night. We offered consequences and tried again. Again, all rules, not just one, were broke the next week.
We decided she wasn’t ready. In fact really, what 9 year old is? But we lived and learned. So, we had another conversation and at that point removed all ability to text from both girls. We weren’t going to make the same mistake again.
After all of this a parent would hope they had it under control, but instead it got even scarier. Even after all the talks regarding what info could never be given out on the device and countless warnings about talking to people she didn’t know, we discovered that she was finding ways to make contact with the outside world.
- She wanted to be a part so badly that she discovered Words with Friends had the ability to chat. She had sparked conversations with adults in other states. We removed that app.
- Then, she discovered that Pandora had a chat room option. She was having all kinds of conversations with people of all ages regarding music. We removed that app.
- That’s when she went online. She sneaked in to use the computer and signed herself up for a “Facebook” like service where people told stories. She used her email and lied about her age. It was only because I see all of her emails that I was able to catch it.
At that point she lost the device for quite some time and we regrouped as parents. I’m not saying that all kids will push the boundaries like this, but they sure don’t have to try very hard to do so.
Our oldest has spent the past two and half years proving to us she could abide within the rules set regarding devices, the internet, and social media (which means none). She has done an amazing job building that trust back up, and we couldn’t be prouder of her.
This past weekend, we celebrated her 12.5 birthday. (She’s a Christmas Eve baby so we’ve always partied on her half birthday.) And, I’m proud to report she now has a cell phone. We handed her a iPhone 5C. It’s even a newer version than ours. We were deliberately making the point that we were proud of her while simultaneously giving her a good reason to continue to be trustworthy. The fact that we know iPhones inside and out made it an easy choice as well when it comes to her protection.
This cell phone, however, came with a contract.
Why is a detailed cell phone contract a must have?
A detailed contract is a great example of effective communication and that’s what we believe a cell phone is: a tool for communication.
Thinking through and writing out all our expectations as parents allows our child to never have to guess at what is okay and what isn’t. All expectations, rules, guardrails, and guidelines are clear. “I didn’t know” will never be an acceptable excuse.
And the point I wanted to make the most was:
Cell Phones are for communication not entertainment (Tweet That).
We are those parents.
We are those parents who don’t care if our kids are the last to have anything, especially a cell phone.
In fact, she was one of two in her classroom this year that didn’t and is one of only a handful in our youth group at church as well. We won’t be those parents who push not having one to the point of exacerbating our kids, but finding the balance of true protection, yet teaching them to be in this world but not of it, is incredibly hard. I’m sure we will discover ways to do it even better as we go.
It is my opinion that children should be at least twelve before having access to the outside world this includes texting or chatting through apps without a parent present at the moment. Whether it’s a iPod, iPad, Android device, computer, or phone, the risks outweigh the convenience or entertainment value. With this said, our youngest won’t have a phone or ability to text until the summer before junior high either when she has her 12th birthday, and neither girl will engage in social media until the age of thirteen.
Why no social media?
Allowing children to have social media accounts before the required age these site set tells our kids it’s okay to lie when it’s convenient or we disagree with the rules. Trust is what we are going for here. We know more is caught than taught, so why would we say be honest with us, tell us the truth always, to model deceit by lying about her age for social media accounts?
Something to ponder…
On a side note, The last two years I’ve taken an informal survey of my seventh grade classrooms in September when most are 12 years old regarding cell phones. I think you’ll find it interesting that there are far more cell phones and social media accounts in the hands of my lowest level students. The GATE class by far has the fewest phones and almost no social media. Take from that what you will.
The contract and my heart…
So, I offer you the contract I wrote. If you want a 8-10 line generic contract, this is NOT it. It’s two full pages and very detailed. It’s also specific to our family, but feel free to use it as a model to write your own. You can even copy and paste the parts you want.
I love my kids too much to let something that is designed to be a TOOL for communication to hurt, scar, or ruin them. As was explained to her, the contract will be reviewed in a year, and if she’s proven herself trustworthy as I’m sure she will, the guardrails will be expanded and the guidelines loosened and so on each year.
I share all of this because I love kids. It’s not just a matter of protecting my own. Each year I have the opportunity to love on, guide, and educate over 100 tweens. I see first hand the effects of what unprotected cell phone use does to a kid, and it often leaves me in tears.
It seems more money and energy is spent protecting the phone than the child using it. (Tweet That)
Broken phones can be made new. Broken kids can’t. (Tweet That)
What do you think about this topic? When did your kids get phones or what’s the plan? We don’t have it all figured out and would love to learn and grow from you as well. Is there anything you’d remove or add to the contract?