I bought my sixth grader a cell phone a couple of months ago. She is a very good student, on the A-B honor roll every year, so I figured buying her a cell phone (adding her to my plan) was a good reward for her passing all of her Texas-mandated Taks tests this past year.
I also bought it in case of emergency. With a cell phone, she can always contact me or my wife at work, or one of her many aunts and uncles, should something come up.
Finally, she had been asking me for one. Her friends have cell phones. I gave in.
I sat her down and told her that with a cell phone comes responsibility. Not all kids are mature enough to handle it, but I believed my daughter could manage the responsibility with ease. I'm sure many of you parents have had the same talk with your daughters, at least giving them some of the basics: Don't answer calls from unknown numbers. Texting boys is not allowed. Always answer when a parent calls, and always reply when a parent sends a text or email. After all, if you give your children cell phones, they had better promptly reply when you contact them.
As it turns out, these kids are setting the world on fire with texting. For the first month my daughter racked up over 6,000 texts. Is that possible? I have not even come close to 6,000 texts in all the time I've had a cell phone, and I don't think I ever will. I started asking myself: who is she texting? What can they be texting about?
I want to believe that middle school kids are mostly texting about harmless things: the latest Twilight or Harry Potter movie, TV shows like Hannah Montana, or the latest Jonas Brothers song. But I'm not sure. I have witnessed my two older daughters texting each other while in the same room! They can't talk? They have to text each other? I have not received my cell phone bill this month but I expect my daughter will top 7,000 texts for the month of July.
OK. So how am I going to decrease, and monitor, my daughter's texting? Good question. My cell phone carrier offers parental controls to monitor not only the minutes used but also who can text my daughter. A parent can go on the carrier's website and block unwanted incoming text messages from selected phone numbers. This puts the parent at least partly in the driver's seat when it comes to controlling a child's cell phone use. Why not use this feature? It's free and it will probably save a parent some heartache.
As part of the process, of course, parents need to actually go through their child's cell phone records, including going through the texts. I try to do this at least once a week. I also try to familiarize myself with the latest texting shortcuts that kids are using.
I knew right off the bat that I did not want my daughter to have picture mail or the Internet on her phone. I have read so many horror stories about teens sending nude pictures to each other. But after a month of getting used to her cell phone, my daughter asked me if I could "fix" her picture mail. But, while I would trust my daughter with it, I'm not sure I trust some of the kids at her junior high.
Parents should also disable the Internet from their teen's cell phones. Why would a teenager really need the Internet on her phone? If my daughter needs the Internet she can come home and use it on the home computer where I can monitor.
Parents should also encouraged their kids to put the phones away at some point during the day and just talk to their parents, and interact with her younger sisters, in person. In fact, if both parents are home, all cell phones should be off. The home is for the family. After a hard day at the office I want to know about my daughter's day. I want to tell her about my day. I want to find out about my wife's day. I have read many articles stating that Americans hardly take any time off from work. We are taking less vacation time. I want to cherish my down time with my family.
Driving my family around, I'm pretty sure I've been hearing some buttons getting pushed on somebody's cell phone. So I have a new rule: no texting in the car. When we are traveling in the car I want to be talking to my daughters (or listening to music).
I also advise my daughter to turn off her cell phone before bedtime. I do not need anyone texting her during the night.
So far so good. I think I'm getting my daughter's texting under control. I know we will need to take baby steps, so I have the modest goal, for now, of getting her down to under 5,000 texts a month. (The texting plan is unlimited, but that's not the point.)
Do I sound controlling? Probably. But as parents we have to be. I don't want to be the kind of parent who gives his child a cell phone and lets the cell phone become the baby sitter.
I have a four and a six year old, and I'm sure they are watching very closely. They play with their little toy phones. (They can text on those all they want!) They are watching to see how my oldest daughter uses and handles her cell phone, studying every movement, checking to see what she gets away with. I'm sure they can't wait to get their hands on their own mobile phones.
I'm sure the cell phones of the future will allow my younger daughters to text even more — they'll probably be able to send 10,000 texts a month with ease. Parents will have their work cut out for them with these high-tech phones of the future.
Meanwhile, my oldest daughter is already asking me when she can have a Facebook account. The saga continues.