Q: Against my better judgment, my husband and I have agreed to put a new cellphone under the Christmas tree for our 12-year-old son.
My husband is about as enthusiastic for this thing as I am, but we see our boy wandering into the classroom in his school as one of the few students not hooked into to our complicated telecommunications.
As much as we might want to stick to our principles, which in this case would mean saying “no” to cellphones, we do not have a need to single our boy out from the rest of the class. He will at least fit in with his peers with his new phone.
However, my husband and I do not want to stop there. We have a few days before Christmas that we can use to research this project and clarify some rules that we can put into place so that our boy does not get victimized either by cyberbullying or digital addictions. That is what I call it when I see kids hunched over to their cellphones for much of the day.
What do you suggest we consider to help our boy better manage his cellphone once the wrapping paper is off the present and he is into the magic of an electronic world?
A: I am glad to see you are considering your rules before your son gets his cellphone rather than waiting to try to implement some guidance after he has started to use it.
Too often parents are not starting out with reasonable guidelines to help their kids manage their phones before the kids have started playing with them.
Establishing a pattern on a cellphone does not take long.
By the time these same parents realize that the phone is interfering with their child’s normal growth and development, the kid is hooked.
Getting him or her to change and start following rules at that point is difficult and usually leads to clashes between parent and child.
My hope is that you and your husband will have your guidelines in place before your son has taken the wrapping off his Christmas present.
The principle theme for young adolescents and cellphones is that your son will always be in charge of his cellphone.
When young people are not sleeping at night because of text messages, they are not in control. Their phones are. When young people answer their phones rather than finishing that great meal you have prepared for them, they are not in control of their phones. Their phones are in control of them. When young people buy into the horrible messages that are being sent back and forth through texting, they are not in control of their phones. Their phones are in control of them. And when young people share inappropriate photos, their phones are again in charge and this time are ruining decent and acceptable perspectives on life.
Your starting rules for your son are simple:
- He cannot take his phone into his bedroom at night when he is preparing to go to bed.
- He can only use his phone on school property when he is following the rules of the school telling him when and when not he is to do so.
- He cannot have his phone on him when it is time in the evening to do school work and prepare for the next day’s classes.
- He cannot answer his phone when all of you are having a family moment, be that during a meal or just during normal family get togethers.
- He cannot send pictures on his phone unless he first shows those pictures to you.
Your son loses his cellphone for a week every time he breaks one of the above rules. Simple, isn’t it?
Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.