Banning Phone Sales for Preteens… or Not!

Posted on July 26, 2017

I recently came across this segment on CNN, where a Colorado physician and father joined others in circulating a petition to ban cell phone sales to children under 13. I have read enough research and followed enough conversations with experts to know that the issue is truly a concern. Cutting-edge research confirms that the brain during the teen years leans toward more impulsive behavior, attitudes, and mood swings and is more prone to addictions. How then can we put mobile devices in a teenager’s hands and expect him or her to behave responsibly and not break rules? Are we setting up our tweens and teens for failure? Even if this petition becomes a law—which realistically would take a couple of years—what should parents be doing in the meantime? How can they cope now?

To shed light on this, I phoned a friend who has a great relationship with her kids and is an extremely mindful and open-minded parent. She has three kids—a tween boy and two teen girls. I found her tools and boundaries very much on point. And her roll-up-your-sleeves attitude inspired me to share her ideas.

Here’s her take:

“This is what we do with our kids: We require them to give us their passwords for all electronic devices, and we have Life 360 installed on the phones so we can find out where they are whenever we need to. We also monitor data usage to make sure they aren’t watching YouTube videos all day long. They have to turn everything off when they go to bed so they aren’t watching things in bed at night. Other than that, I’ll periodically take a look at texts when they leave the phone around the house. (They don’t know I’m looking.) I also follow all their social media handles to make sure they aren’t posting anything inappropriate.

“I think people are making setting limits a bigger deal than that needs to be. We make the rules for our kids, and if they don’t abide by them, we take the phones away for the rest of the day. We’ve done that a few times with one daughter, and, believe me, she learned her lesson. I am not tracking them all day long—only once in a blue moon. Plus, when they know we have their passwords, the kids are less likely to post anything inappropriate.

“The good thing is we have a great way of teaching kids how to manage technology properly from an early age. Sure, it’s one more thing to teach, but I think as parents we have to do that.

“My kids are much more likely to ‘talk’ to me via a text. If they are upset or angry with me, they write it out, and then we go back and forth with a text discussion. Ideally, I’m sure it would be better to talk face to face, but I’d rather have the discussion over text than not have it at all. It’s much easier for kids to voice their feelings when they aren’t staring into their parent’s eyes.

“It’s up to us to set limits. We don’t have to interfere with their personal space, but it’s perfectly okay to say no electronics at mealtimes or after going to bed. It’s also okay to say you want the kids to get an hour of exercise outdoors every day (without the phones). But other than that, I do think you have to leave them alone. Sure, sometimes my kids use their iPads excessively, but I let it slide. It isn’t worth getting on their case about everything!”

“When I was a kid, my mother got on my case about always being up in my room reading books. Really, with kids, there is always something to complain about.”

This is what exactly what parenting is all about. It’s a balancing act. In order to build an open and lasting relationship with her kids, this forward-thinking mom uses some all-important traits. She is:

  • Firm yet kind. Kids need boundaries and guidelines around technology. Have one simple consequence—you’ll lose your gadget for x amount of time—and deliver it firmly yet kindly. No mocking or sarcasm. As I say in my book, The Perfect Parent , “When you are right, practice being kind first.” It’s the easiest way to communicate effectively!
  • Flexible. Know when to bend without breaking. If you have a good system in place around technology and your kids mostly follow through, you can sometimes let things slide. Military-style parenting has never worked for any age group, especially teens. Letting them know that you are turning the other cheek “this time” is another great way to build camaraderie and ensure future compliance.
  • Creative. This is a must and helps us find ways to open up the dialogue with kids. Take texting. She says, “I’d rather have the discussion over text than not have it at all.” That really resonated with me. If all of us had such foresight in parenting our children—especially in the face of challenges—we would find much more joy in parenting.

What are your thoughts? Please share what has worked for you.