Friday, August 30, 2013

Pre-teens, Cell Phones & Planning for Success

I’ve been away from blogging for a few months.  While trying to figure out my priorities and better balance work,  family and leisure time,  I've been  wondering where blogging fits in.  Maybe it is the sheer volume of blogs in my own Facebook & Twitter feed but I sometimes think there are just too many blogs in the world!  Then I started questioning if  I really have anything fresh and original to say about anything.  Is there really one more thing to be written about the VMA's?

No,  probably not… but I enjoy the process of writing and it helps me to work through some of the parenting challenges I face every day.   So I’m giving this another shot.  Despite Miley and her recent soul-sucking performance and many other more important world issues, today I'm blogging about the three things dominating the conversations at my house this week:  new school, city buses and cell phones.

Next week my daughter heads off to a new school – taking three city buses each way.  It is actually a short drive but a crazy bus route in a city that has two rivers running through it and a transit system that was poorly designed.    These two facts (new school, city buses) have led us to get her a cell phone.   I’m the parent who always answered that particular plea with “when you are at least 16 and you make enough money to pay the bill”.    And then this summer we stepped back and said .." uh oh ... maybe we need her to have a cell phone..."   I haven’t spotted a single phone booth on that school route.  There are going to be missed connections.  Sometimes the temps reach -40C in the winter.  There will  be after school clubs and the need to find a way to pick her up after special events.   How will we manage to stay in touch without a cell phone?

Some of my readers will be rolling your eyes at my worries... your kids were sporting iPhones in second grade.  You may be thinking I worry too much or am just out of touch with youth culture.   And I’m going to guess that if you are judging me harshly that you probably didn’t grow up with a rotary dial phone that shared a phone line with your grandparents house next door! (Really... I knew that it was possible that Grandma could be listening in on every word!)

Photo Credit: Christopher Brown

Why would we be worried?   Recently a friend found “sexting” messages on her 13 year old daughter’s phone.  Another friend has a child whose ADHD and impulse control issues have been wildly exacerbated  over the years by her need to respond to every message the instant it arrives.  Families have faced hundreds of dollars in unexpected cell phone charges and one girl I know has plunged into both a  swimming pool and a hot tub while holding her cell phone – on two separate occasions.   Then there is the whole, well documented, issue of kids being incredibly short on sleep in this generation...  attributed primarily to computers and cell phones in their bedroom.

Our parental “need” to be in contact ultimately overruled the worries so I thought I would share a bit about the approach we took in order to make this a successful experience.

My daughter came to the store so that she could be a part of the process and see that signing a contract is serious business (and that there is more to owning a cell phone than friends, photos and hot pink phone cases!)   While we opted not to have a data plan at this time we opted in to an unlimited text plan.   It may be inconceivable to me that some teenagers send several thousand a month...  but I've seen the sticker shock on parent's faces who made the mistake of a limited text plan and then received the first bill.

At home we have a contract of our own.  It is two pages long and outlines her responsibilities as well as ours.  These agreements will be different for each family but I recommend putting something down on paper and being very clear who actually owns the phone (we do!) and who sets the boundaries for it’s use (we do!).   We have limits around time of day it can be used and it will never ever stay in her bedroom when it is time for lights out.  She is responsible to keep it charged and be available to us when we want to reach her. 

We've also been working on communication skills and what is appropriate to say or share on one's phone.  This includes actually practicing with us how to politely exit a difficult conversation.  She has been learning to take a deep breath and wait until seeing that friend “in person” before responding to what may have felt like a hurtful remark or insult.    We’ve discussed what kinds of photos are okay to take and send and what ones can ruin your life or that of someone else.   

She is also being billed by us once a month for a portion of her cell phone fees.  We hope that this will begin to teach her about those kinds of financial responsibilities and to treat her property with respect.

Am I still worried?   Yes but I’ve begun to see this like the bus route to her new school...  it is simply a new path to navigate.   Just as we have practiced the route, learned where to cross the roads and get the next connection and how to ask for help if needed …  we are also teaching her how to navigate in a world that is more and more dominated by texting and instant messaging.   This is one more growing-up path to navigate and hopefully we’ve provided the right map to help her do it safely and without too many bumps along the way.