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Cell Phone Mania!

Joanne Ryder, School Counselor

If you look around, it seems as though “everyone” has a cell phone, kids included. Here at school, students no longer need to borrow the school landline to call home; they reach into their pocket or bag and pull out their own cell phone. Formerly seen as extravagant items, cell phones are now necessities and in some parents’ eyes, are a must for their kids. They say it gives them a sense of security knowing “in the event of an emergency” their kids can get in touch with them. Thankfully, emergencies don’t happen very often. So for the satisfaction of peace of mind, parents are willingly surrendering incredible technology into the hands of highly tech-savvy babes. This statement opposes itself on purpose. You see, kids know more, learn faster, and are much more in-tune to the ins and outs of technology then most people older then them (uh-hmm, that would be you, adults). But due to their age and brain development, they don’t possess the appropriate thinking and decision making skills that this type of technology demands. This disconnect invites difficult and sometimes dangerous situations.

A few surprising things came to my attention recently that I’d like to share. First, kids who have their own cell phones are very possessive of them. When asked about this, one compared letting someone borrow her cell phone to letting someone borrow her underwear. Their cell phones contain private messages, personal photos and videos along with open access to their social networking pages. So, they only reluctantly hand them over but with great suspicion.

Next, kids tell me they don’t talk on their cell phones and are often puzzled when it rings. They mostly use them to text and post comments to social networking sites. One astonished parent reported opening her cell phone bill to discover 30,000 text messages had occurred in one month from her child’s phone. (It was then shut off for awhile). One time I challenged a student on how “typing” could take the place of interacting with a real human voice, the idea was scoffed at. She stated, why talk to one person at a time when you could talk to many! I didn’t have a come back. She was right and certainly opened my eyes to the lure of cyber communication.

I’ve come to understand that kids can get addicted to their cell phones. This means that when they get into trouble through texting for example, they will tolerate a great deal of harassment and cyberbullying before they seek help. The fear of their phones being taken away is much greater than the fear of threatening text messages.

Parents need to be aware of the consequences of “sexting.” Many cell phones have video and picture taking capabilities. Usually kids use this feature to capture the silly things they do. But some have been know to take pictures of themselves or friends in bikinis or in suggestive poses. If these picture messages are sent to others, it is considered “sexting.” The price of this can be devastating. Aside from suffering embarrassment or ruining a student’s reputation, it can hurt you as a parent. I recently had a conversation with the local police on this topic. I was warned that transferring pictures of this nature of children who are underage can be viewed as “trafficking child pornography,” a federal offense. They pointed out too that while the child may be the one sending it, the cell phone is issued in the parent’s name, thus making the parent liable.

So what to do… I have few ideas that will help balance the “need” for a child to have a cell phone and the many challenges that come from owning it.

  • Keep in mind, it’s YOUR cell phone that YOU allow your child to use. That means you are responsible for it, therefore YOU are entitled to review EVERYTHING that is on it. Let your child know this upfront and make him/her aware that you will be checking it daily.
  • Set up rules for appropriate use and expectations before handing it over. Discuss things such as proper language. Talk about cyberbullying and what to do if your child receives a threatening text. Give your child permission to tell you without the fear of losing his/her phone privileges.
  • Give the cell phone a “bed time.” Establish a time and place such as the kitchen counter where it will be plugged in to charge each night. A cell phone “bed time” forces your child to take a break and stops them from texting all night long. It will also discourage friends from calling in the middle of the night. While the cell phone is “in bed,” this is a great time to peruse it. Should you find something that doesn’t sit well with you, take this opportunity to talk to your child about it and reiterate your rules and expectations.
  • Know who your child is communicating with. Their definition of “friend” is very different from that of generations past. Now, “friend” can be anyone who has contacted your child through cyberspace. They will say they “know” the person but not in the typical sense. They are naïve to the fact that many people misrepresent themselves online.
  • Talk to them about “chain texts.” Kids this age still believe in magical-thinking. So, if a text says “forward to 10 people or your head will explode!” they forward it on as quickly as they can. Some parents view these chain texts as harassment, so please warn your child.
  • Talk to your service provider about parent control options. Many companies allow you to disable a phone at a certain time each night and give you the ability to block numbers. Some even have features that act as a GPS and are able to locate your child’s exact location. Having these controls can come in very handy!