2016-10-15 / Viewpoints

Kids and their cellphones


(Robin L. Kuleck, RN, MS Ed., of Emporium is a senior educator with Penn State Extension.)

Cellphone ownership among teens has been growing steadily since 2009. At least three-quarters of teens have them.

Ownership of a cellphone should be dictated by a child’s level of responsibility, ability to demonstrate appropriate use of the phone, and need to be in contact with family members.

Does the child show responsibility for everyday actions? Does she show solid motivation related to schoolwork, household chores, or practice time without constant reminders? Does she remember where items have been placed? If so, the child may possess the level of responsibility needed to have a cellphone.

Parents should ensure their child understands when talking on a cell phone could be disruptive or rude. They should also stress that texts are eternal once the send button is pushed. They are permanently available for others to retrieve.

Have the child ask himself, “What would my teacher or parents think if they read this text?”; or, if applicable, “Will my employer approve of this text?”

Children who go places with friends, children who are at home alone and may or may not have access to a landline, or children who are old enough to care for siblings at home or babysit for neighbors might benefit greatly from having a cellphone for safety.

It is important to establish ground rules. For example, the child should answer phone calls as quickly as possible. Unanswered phone calls cause frustration or fear and can create distrust.

Parents may also want to think about whom their child is calling or texting. Encourage the child to think about how she plans to use the phone and discuss these ideas.

For some families, texting may be a better way to communicate. If the child feels embarrassed or is at a place where he cannot talk on the phone, texting is a good solution. Parents may be in situations in which a call is inappropriate or obtrusive, so texting is a good option for them, too.

Setting limits for when to use the phone and for what length of time will make it clear that the parents, and not their child, are in control. Lastly, identify expectations for the cellphone’s safekeeping.

Once the rules have been established, the parent should identify consequences for misuse and consistently apply them. Careful planning and understanding can help the child develop a sense of self-confidence and independence.

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