Given a choice, all kids will choose an electronic device over any other activity. Trial and error (and some good advice from other parents) has helped us manage electronic devices of every sort for toddlers and teens alike! We got together and compiled 5 cell phone rules that create a healthy balance between digital time and down time. Cell phones and tablets are fun and useful, but our pre-teens and teens need a little help managing them. We find ourselves giving advice to younger parents on this subject continually; and figured it was time to include it in an article!
Cell Phones and Dopamine
Ultimately, we care about helping our kids foster relationships safely and genuinely. We want to be sure we are giving our pre-teens and teens proper tools for managing stress and maintaining self-esteem. Check out our Quick Reads article for an eye-opening video interview featuring Simon Sinek, a popular Ted Talks speaker. In the video, he references a 2012 Harvard study as he gives parents of millennials a warning: “An entire generation now has access to an addictive, numbing chemical called dopamine, through cellphones and social media, while they are going through the high stress of adolescence.” Creating a few cell phone rules for teens has become necessary as we learn more about the potential dangers they pose to our well-being. We definitely kicked things into high gear at home when Sinek compared giving kids a cell phone to giving them keys to the liquor cabinet!
5 Cell Phone Rules We Use at Home
As we mentioned, this has been a topic of discussion within our extended family for years. How much is too much? How much is too little? What kinds of rules promote good decision making? Which rules are imperative to keep our kids safe? Between cell phones, tablets, video consoles, and computers – it’s easy to feel like you are battling with an octopus! As always, feel free to adjust these cell phone rules to fit the age and maturity of your child. It’s much easier to establish rules at the outset and then change them as your child shows responsibility. You will be fighting an uphill battle if you hand them a device and then slowly add restrictions afterwards. (Ask us how we know.)
Rule 1. Store in Parent’s Room at Bedtime
As we mentioned above, some of our rules came about as we discussed monitoring our kid’s phones with other parents. Some of our best cell phone rules have come from other good families who are doing a good job raising healthy, well-adjusted teens. Many parents have implemented the rule to have kids leave phones in their bedroom at bedtime. And it makes sense! What kid wouldn’t be tempted to text friends or keep themselves up into the wee hours of the night if their phone was right next to them? Not to mention all of the studies showing cell phones are not conducive to sleep! This affects your kids study habits, eating habits, and more. Health issue, big time.
Rule 2. Set Up Parental Controls
Your child’s safety is just as important as their health. It’s scary letting your child use a browser for the first time, wondering what they might come across. We highly recommend installing parental control software such as Norton Family Premier on to your child’s computer or electronic device before giving it to them. You can set your cell phone rules and manage all of your devices from one handy location. They send email updates letting you know as much or as little information about your child’s digital usage as you want. This is nice, because you can set separate rules for individual children and change them as needed.
Norton Family Premier
We first got hooked on Norton Family using their free 30 day trial. Using their web portal, you can block adult content, set time limits, and supervise browser use or social media use. You really do get peace of mind knowing your kids are browsing the internet safely. A Norton Family Premier subscription is $49.99/year which covers multiple children and multiple devices. Works for our young kids and big kids alike! We’ve had the software installed for about 3 years now and it just keeps getting better as they add new features.
Rule 3. Social Media Guidelines
As your children get older, it’s only a matter of time before they want to start a social media account. Social media has it’s pros and cons, but the cons are especially harsh for young teens. As far as our cell phone rules go, we highly recommend keeping social media off of phones. We’ve found healthier social media habits in our teens as we’ve made it not so readily accessible. Girls, especially, become more prone to cyber bullying and feelings of being “left out” with social media. The less they are fixated with their feed, the better.
Another danger with social media is that pre-teens and teens tend to “friend” people they barely know, or don’t know at all! Many of our parent friends have had the shock of seeing inappropriate material sent to their teens via Messenger by people their kids have never met in person. This is a big deal and parents need to help their kids understand that not everyone with a profile is who they say they are. You can’t leave the monitoring up to the social media site entirely, there’s only so much they can do.
Rule 4. “Your Phone is a Tool, Not a Toy”
This rule, unfortunately, came after many failed attempts to monitor pre-teen cell phone use. Game apps quickly digress to “meme scrolling” and boys especially become more easily subjected to apps that contain base humor and soft or animated porn. Kids and teens are less likely to view inappropriate content on a bigger screen that a parent can easily see. If you just keep the games off of phones at the beginning, you will make things much easier for yourself and your future teenager. It’s better to let them play games on the computer, where you can monitor more easily.
Helpful Hint: Explain Why
One of our better parent friends gave us a little secret strategy. Cell phone rules are more easily established if you first explain to your child why you are implementing them. Kids may not love the tool-not-a-toy rule, but they will accept it better if they understand the thought process behind it. Phones should be regarded as tools for learning and communicating, not as a mindless sources of entertainment. We have found that restricting game apps and video / movie apps encourages our teens to look elsewhere when they are bored. Cell phones are a great source of building relationships and communicating with friends, so texting and music apps are always okay. We’re not completely heartless!
Rule 5. Setting Time Constraints
Finally, our last rule has to do with keeping our kids active!! If you don’t set some cell phone rules with time constraints, your children will start to suffer both mentally and physically. It’s important to realize that inspiration and innovation both come from moments of peace and sometimes boredom! Let your teens be bored for about 30 minutes and then see what they end up doing. We’re always amazed at the activities they come up with or the way they will use their imaginations instead. Setting time constraints also give you some much-needed parenting leverage. Unfortunately, time on electronic devices has become the only thing our kids respond to. We can use extra time as an incentive, or losing time as a consequence. And if you threaten to take the phone away for a day? O-ho! Watch your teens move! Whatever works.
You Know Your Kids Best
Hopefully, we’ve give you a few good ideas to work with as you move down the digital patch with your kids. Establishing cell phone rules is tricky, as each child is different. Having a couple of tried-and-true rules can make the job less daunting. Feel free to add a comment and help our readers find tips that have worked for you! Ultimately, the goal is to keep our kids safe and happy, and if we can do that without making them hate us in the meantime, all the better. Be prepared to be flexible as your child matures, but stand fast to your rules as much as possible. Consistency is key and your kids are worth it!