Textual analysis: phone rules for parents and teens

John Gushue
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I’ve had several conversations over the last few months on a subject that will, sooner or later, be raised in my own household.

Teenagers and texting go together like PB&J, but it’s not yet part of our family’s daily life. Before we know it, though, our son will start wanting a cellphone, and we’ll have to make a decision on what we’ll do when the lobby inevitably kicks into gear.

Right now, it would be preposterous to give our son — a fifth grader — a phone, but I can see that a few years down the road, it would be helpful. And I mean helpful for us, regardless of what it would mean to his own life. A cell provides a link and offers peace of mind (although one of my friends is also blunt about calling it as he sees it: it’s a leash, he insists).

But I’m not blind to the pitfalls that come from equipping teens with phones.

First, there are the costs. It seems like every parent I know has a story of sticker shock, of opening the phone bill and learning about hidden charges and texting overruns that never seem to get included in the sales pitches.

But apart from a lesson on why it’s good to do your homework on cell plans (and to set hard limits, and prepare for the consequences, on excessive texting), I’m more concerned about another kind of excessive use: the nocturnal kind.

While it’s obvious that many teens can’t put their phones out of sight during their waking hours, it’s also clear that many of them want to be in touch during what should be their sleeping hours, too.

Namely, the kids are taking their phones to bed, and either texting covertly under the covers or keeping the phone within reach, should a buzz-buzz message come in through the night. For a whole generation of people, that 24/7 concept of being connected is scarily true.

I heard a piece about through-the-night texting on the radio recently, which brought to mind conversations I’ve had about how some kids simply can’t let go of their devices, nor know when to stop. One of the side-effects of this texting epidemic boils down to two words: sleep deprivation.

For years, I’ve promoted a common-sense platform for youngsters and computers. That is, if you’re going to have both in the house at the same time, make sure both of them are in plain view. That is, I don’t think children should use computer in their bedrooms, and that parents should be able to monitor what their kids are doing online, from school research to chatting with friends.

I’ve amended that line of thinking, and the issue here is less about safety and more about good health. With older kids, the line of demarcation should include cellphones and other electronic devices.

That likely raises the stakes for a confrontation in the family, but it’s a fight worth taking on.

A wise friend of mine adopted a policy I wholeheartedly endorse: her daughter’s cellphone gets recharged overnight in her parents’ bedroom. I’m aware of another family where the kids in the family are required to leave their phones — all three of them — in plain view in the kitchen, or risk losing them altogether. So far, it’s working.

I’ve heard plenty of chatter about giving phones to kids, including a lot of disapproving remarks — almost always from people whose own situations don’t involve actual kids. I’ve also had enough conversations with friends to know that laying down the groundrules and living with them can be complicated, messy and easier said than done.

Much like everything else that goes with parenting.

But for their own health and well-being, your kids need to know that everything should be in its right place, and their phone’s right place is definitely not underneath their pillow.

John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.

Organizations: CBC News

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