Single-Parenting Cell Phone Use with Kids

Used to be, parents had to worry about their kids’ behavior primarily when children were alone: even if a kid got in trouble at school, there were people around for damage control.

These days, kids can get in trouble anywhere and at any time through the wonders of technology. Mobile phones are ubiquitous, even in schools … and there seem to be very few rules governing the culture. Some people in a real position to know are starting to suggest that kids on smartphones might actually be a problem.

As single working mothers, this can be a serious issue. It’s tempting, at times, to let mobile phones be babysitters, of a sort: hey, at least the kids are quiet, right? My guess is, even as you read that, you felt the concept was wrong … and felt a twinge of guilt because you’ve given in to that once or twice yourself.

So how do you install a sense of responsibility for phone use, especially when your plate is more than full as it is?

To start, you can demonstrate healthy and responsible phone use yourself. Think about your own use: if you’re constantly checking email or social media, even in others’ presence, your kids will naturally think this is acceptable. If you bar your kids from using phones during family meals, you’d better be following that rule yourself if you want it to stick. And it’s hard to point out the dangers of texting behind the wheel if you’re taking messages while driving them to school.

As Few Rules as Possible

The fewer rules you have for your kids and their phones, the easier it will be to stay on top of them (actually, that works for most rule sets … why do you think there are only 10 Commandments?). Think along the lines of your basic 5 Ws:

Who: Friends and family only–no one the child met online. Do random checks now and then to be sure. Also–any texts or calls from you (or other parent/guardian) must be answered immediately. There may be instances where the child misses the call … but the way kids are glued to their phones, it shouldn’t happen often.

What: Today’s mobile phones can be used for a great number of things, but there are some things it is not to be used for: sexting and cyberbullying top the list. This can be especially hard to control when mainstream media promotes the concept. Also make sure your kids aren’t making phone purchases on your account.

Where: In plain sight. Phones can be used in common areas, but not behind closed doors. If they’re afraid you might accidently see what they’re texting, they probably shouldn’t be writing it.

When: Another reason to keep phones out of bedrooms: left to their own devices, kids would talk until dawn. When a kid has a phone in bed, it’s like a cyber-slumber party every night. Establish the limits upfront: no phone communication after 10:00 p.m., and none before 7:00 a.m.

Why: This is one of those questions that’s near impossible to answer to a child’s satisfaction, because most kids don’t have a wide enough world-view yet. You can try to explain your rationale, but as much as I hate to say it, this may get down to the simple “Because that is the rule.”

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