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Tips for Cell Phone Safety for Your Tween or Teen

May 4, 2015 at 8:30 AM

digital familyThere once was a time—you may be old enough to remember—where kids actually had to go to the TV and turn the knob to change the channel or adjust the volume, play a game out in the backyard or take turns on a landline phone to call their friends. But nowadays, in this technological world, kids are presented with all kinds of gadgets as parents strain to keep up with everything.

Are you a parent of a tween or teen? If so, then no doubt you’ve been nagged almost to death with one question: “When can I have a cell phone?” If they haven’t asked you yet, don’t worry, they will!

The percentage of kids that have cell phones is amazing. For kids ages ten to twelve (tweens), roughly 60% of them have a cell phone; while almost 80% of teens—age thirteen to seventeen—are owners of cell phones. 

True, sometimes it’s hard to say no; particularly when they plead, “Please? Everybody has one!” But sometimes we have to ignore their please and say no—especially if they want something they’re too young to have.

Parent’s Responsibility

If you’ve got a tween or teen at home and you’re seriously thinking of getting them a cell phone, just remember that you—and only you—have the burden to:

  • Inspire your tween or teen to come back to reality with activities that will force him or her to pay more attention to their environment.
  • Always keep their phone updated with privacy settings.
  • Limit the number of hours that your teen uses their cell phone—this consists of data usage and texts in addition to calls.
  • Become knowledgeable about every feature on his or her phone so that you can answer any questions they may have or provide help.
  • Make sure they follow the rules!

What it all boils down to is this: you’re their parent, not their friend. You must take complete control of their cell phone usage. Your tween or teen needs to show that they are responsible; when they act irresponsibly, be firm and never think twice about revoking their phone use.

Tween/Teen Cell Phone Contract

Before you purchase that phone, you need to establish some ground rules for cell phone safety. A good way to do that is to draw up a contract between you and your child. Sit down with them and go over the entire contract so they know exactly what’s expected of them. If you’re stumped as to what kinds of things would go into a child’s contract, here are a few ideas:

  • My parents own this cell phone, I don’t. Using this phone is a benefit that they’re allowing me to have.
  • It’s my responsibility to take care of this phone; if I lose or break it, I will have to replace it.
  • I must earn the right to use this phone—the phone, in addition to using it, costs money.
  • I won’t go over the limits for my monthly texts and/or calls. (A limited text plan is great for kids as is a prepaid phone!)
  • I won’t ever utilize this phone inappropriately. This means:When I’m in school, I will follow the rules concerning the use of cell phones.
    • I won’t begin or take part in improper conversations through text.
    • If I ever have an issue with someone, I will discuss it face to face; I won’t send them hurtful or mean texts.
    • I will never send improper pictures through my cell phone.
    • I won’t text or talk on the phone after 9 PM—unless it’s to call 911 for an emergency.
  • My parents are going to be able to view my entire text message history as well as my call history. If I put a lock screen on my phone, they’ll be given the code or password.
  • It’s understood that I’ll lose the phone if my parents deem that I’m using it too much and I fail to do my chores, keep up my grades or display bad behavior such as talking back, lying, etc.
  • If I exhibit questionable behavior, my parents will act on their rights to access my phone; otherwise they’ll respect my privacy.
  • If I can search the internet with my phone, I will use a safe search engine such as KidzSearch.

This contract can, of course, be modified to suit your needs; but this gives you a basic idea of what it should entail.

Using the Internet Safely on a Smart Phone

For those kids who can get on the internet via their cell phone, this breeds an entirely new worry on safety matters. Many parents don’t seem to consider it to be an issue if their child can use the internet on their phone, but it’s actually a big problem—bigger than using a home computer.

Why? If your child can access the internet on their smart phone, that indicates that they can access it anywhere including when you aren’t there to watch them—like in school. Thus, the need for a safe search engine that’s specifically for kids.

However, just because their phone will be equipped with a safe search engine doesn’t imply that you don’t have to check their search history. You should also set down some rules that your tween or teen isn’t allowed to delete their search history and your search history checks on their phone should be secretly spontaneous. This is another item that probably should be written into your child’s contract.

Something to consider, though, is that smart phones will be much more costly per month than a regular cell phone. So unless your teen has a part-time job and can help pay for some of the bill or you happen to be rich, maybe a smart phone isn’t the way to go.

Remember, an open discussion of all of these rules is a good idea to make sure your teen understands everything. With your watchful eyes and the contract, your tween or teen will soon learn to become the responsible young adult you want them to be.

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Tim Woda

Posted by Tim Woda

Tim Woda is an Internet safety expert, and a passionate advocate for empowering families and protecting children from today’s scariest digital dangers. Woda was on the founding team of buySAFE, an Internet trust and safety company, and he started working on child safety issues after his son was targeted by a child predator online. While his son was unharmed, the incident led Woda to kick-start uKnow.com. You can follow Tim on Twitter or on his blog.

Topics: iPhone, Android, Mobile Phones/Apps, Devices, Cellphone Rules & Safety

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