Sometimes it feels like mobile technology is taking over a big part of our lives and the lives of our children. Cell phones and tablets are never far from our teenagers’ reach and, truth be told, from our own hands. As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure that our kids develop healthy and safe habits when it comes to technology.
Now that we know how to keep them safe online and protect their privacy, we may want to consider how to make sure they use their mobile devices respectfully. And with a few simple ground rules – which I’ve suggested below – families can create an environment that includes mobile tech without letting it become a communication barrier.
1. No cell phones during family time: Whether it is your nightly family dinner or a special visit to a restaurant, the bowling alley or a movie theatre, cell phones should not be used during “family time.” This rule should apply to mom and dad too.
2. Bedtime rule: When we were kids it was a book under the blankets with a flashlight. But with internet access always available on mobile devices, kids can be playing games, taking photos or texting with their friends when they should be getting much needed rest. A lot of newer cell phones have built-in parental controls that can limit your teen’s mobile usage as well as dictate what they can and can’t do on their cell phones. Using these controls, you can ensure cell phones are not being used at night. Alternatively, you can decide on a place outside of the bedroom where the family can put all cell phones to charge overnight. Out of sight, out of mind!
3. FaceTime is not a replacement for actual face time: Make sure that your teen understands the importance of communicating directly with a person. This rule shouldn’t apply only to family but also to friends. When your teen is with others (friends, family, peers, etc.) it is essential that they make those people their priority.
4. Homework and school: It is important for teens to put their full focus toward school and homework. This means that mobile devices should only be used during school/homework time for school work purposes. A lot of schools are embracing mobile technology and acknowledging the value of incorporating it into the modern education experience. It is important to respect the school’s rules, so be sure your teen knows where their school stands in regards to cellphone use.
5. Returning phone calls: There is nothing more frustrating and worrisome than not being able to reach your teen. Make sure they understand the importance of keeping their phone on when they are out with their friends – after all, one of the primary benefits of cell phones for families is that they make everyone reachable. Be sure to stress that answering the phone and returning missed calls helps everyone in the family communicate openly with one another.
6. Driving and phones do not mix: This is more of a safety rule than anything else, but when talking about teens and cellphone etiquette, it is hard to leave it out. Make sure your kids understand the importance of this rule; it really could be a matter of life or death.
7. Put the ground rules in writing with your kids: A lot of parents are creating a cell phone contract with their kids. It is a great way to ensure that your teen (or pre-teen) is using their cell phone respectfully and responsibly. While items like the above are often included, other terms could include rules governing usage; for example an amount of texts and minutes allotted per month. It is also a great place to put in an “honour code”; a list of things they are expected to do, and to not do, with their cell phone. For example, “I will never engage in any form of cyberbullying” and “I will never share personal information online”, can help keep them safe while they are online.