Some interesting statistics about smartphones and children:
- 56% of tweens, 8-12, and 77% of teenagers, 13-17, own a cell phone.
- 53% of adolescents have reported being in a car while the driver was texting and driving.
- 75% of teen drivers admit to texting while they are driving.
- Teens average 30 texts per day.
- 28% of teens admit to texting inappropriate pictures.
- Nearly 70% of preteens admit to hiding online activity.
- 87% of youths have witnessed cyber bullying.
- Most children do not tell their parents they are being bullied.
- 89% of teens use social media.
- Nearly 50% of teens have posted something on social media they later regret.
- In the USA, 8% of people aged 16-34 have been turned down for a job because of their social media profile.
- More than 90% of parents say they talk to their kids about online safety. Only 60% of teens say they’ve had these conversations with their parents.
- Only 1 in 3 parents set rules for their childern’s smartphone use.
Personal privacy is really important to me, so when someone recently told me that I must respect my teenager’s privacy, it made me stop and think for a minute or two. Yes, only a minute or two and I’ll tell you why.
It’s hard to imagine that ten or fifteen years ago we all got along fine without smartphones, but in today’s world, even teenagers have a hard time functioning without them, and so both of my kids have them. Class assignments and schedules are emailed to them, their bus driver will text them if the bus is running late, many textbooks are given in electronic format, either on their smartphone or a tablet or laptop. And of course they need to be able to communicate with their parents; when they need to be picked up from practice or from a friend’s or the mall. Smartphones are a fantastic invention.
However, even with a background in technology and computers, I find I’m not quite as adept with technology and social media as my children; kids just seem to grow up ‘wired-in’ now. I know a few parents that feel they can’t keep up, and have resigned themselves to being a little out of the technological, social media loop. That’s not my stance though; I want to know what’s going on.
Over the years, we’ve had an ongoing conversation with the kids about social media and the possible dangers hidden under the guise of being connected. We’ve agreed that as they get older, they’ll have more freedom, including exploring the different forms of social media. With increased maturity comes increased ‘rope’. As they prove they can handle what we allow them to use, we lengthen the rope. If they have some trouble, we shorten the rope until they’re ready.
A few years ago my daughter decided that we’re a bit slow on lengthening the rope, so she grabbed a little more freedom than she was allowed. She secretly downloaded and started using an application that she didn’t have permission to use and it ended up causing some problems. Now if I had respected her privacy, I would’ve been none the wiser, and those problems could have become big. But because I stayed on top of her smartphone use, the issue was dealt with while the problem was still small.
In our home, we’ve agreed that having the use of a Smart phone is a privilege and not a right. This privilege comes with certain conditions. Many companies have an acceptable use policy for company-provided cell phones and many of them even go as far as installing software monitoring applications. While we don’t run our family like a company, and we don’t use any monitoring applications, we do have an acceptable use policy.
Smartphone policy for our kids:
- Their phones are parental property and are there for the kids to use, as long as they adhere to the acceptable use policy. This removes the argument of it being their phone and they can do what they want with it.
- They are responsible for taking care of it, and if it breaks due to their negligence, they will remain without a phone until they replace it out of their own allowance.
- Full parental access to the phone, and all content at all times. This means that we have to know all passwords and that we can and do pick up the phone at any given time and look at conversations, call logs, albums, videos etc. The reason for this is not to invade their privacy but to protect them. How can you possibly protect them if you don’t know what they’re busy with or face daily.
- We monitor how much time they get to spend on the phone, whether texting, surfing or playing games. We want our children to be balanced and if they are spending all their time on a phone, that isn’t possible. The phone is a tool not a babysitter.
- They must obey their school’s phone policy.
- Phones are off limits during study, meal and family times. If you have ever tried having a conversation with a teenager who won’t even make eye contact you understand why. It’s also off limits after bed time.
- All social media must be pre-approved and all accounts, as well as usernames, handles and passwords must be written down for us.
- If we are in the mall, the phone is a phone, not just a tool for them to text their friends. If they want to go walk around on their own, I have to be able to get a hold of them. The phone is of no use if the battery is dead because they were too busy playing games or texting, and I can’t get ahold of them.
- No inappropriate images, content, language or behaviour in the things searched for, viewed, texted, emailed, downloaded, etc. Be kind to people; no cyber bullying, and no passing along anything negative.
From a very early age my children have learned that the words “but everybody does it” have very little effect on my decision making. It’s not that I’m unreasonable, but if what everybody else did was our standard, then my children would look very different from the well-adjusted kids they are today.
By the time we implement a house rule, we’ve done enough research and put enough thought into it to know that it’s fair yet still effective for keeping them safe; physically, emotionally and spiritually. While I want to remain flexible, I’m firm enough in my resolve to enforce the rules so that I won’t buckle when the first storm appears on the horizon.
The discovery of my daughter’s smartphone shenanigans was followed by a confrontation that was less than pleasant. There was some resentment and defiance, along with a certain amount of pleading but like I said, the use of a smartphone is a privilege.
For numerous reasons, she can’t be completely without a phone, so my solution was to temporarily confiscate the smartphone and replace it (to her horror!) with a cell phone that could do nothing but phone and send normal text messages. It didn’t even have a camera or email. It was a hard lesson and six months later, she got the opportunity to prove herself trustworthy with a smartphone again.
I will respect my children’s privacy, but not at the expense of their safety and well being.