Managing Smartphones for Teens- Part Two

This is the second part in this series about how to manage a smartphone for teens.  The first part of this series talked about the most recent statistics of smartphone ownership for teens, and how teens with phones are still teens and they need your help in managing a tool that can and will impact them the rest of their lives.  Your teen’s  digital footprint is permanent, so that includes selfies, what they have posted on line or commented on, and more!  What teens post will be there permanently and can affect employment decisions by companies and college admissions.  Parents need to have boundaries around this device just like the boundaries in any other part of parenting.

The first part of this series also talked about delaying smartphone introduction, and some tools to look at utilization rates across devices and to set limits through things such as using your router to set Wi-Fi times, using a device like Circle, and having set hours for a cell phone to be in use. If you haven’t read this post, go read it now and come back to read this part!

Other considerations for parents:

This big question parents ask is:  HOW MUCH TIME ON A SMARTPHONE?  I find this is what parents really want to know, but yet there are very few guidelines out there that seem realistic for teenagers, especially older teenagers.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 HOURS across devices in a day for all teenagers. This post is about smartphone use, and I agree we must look at smartphone use against the usage of all devices in a day.  However,  I feel in an age where teens especially are having to access homework from a portal and use technology during class and for school assignments, this may not be a realistic estimate for many teens, at least in the  American school system.  For homeschooling families, this may be an easier goal for younger teens, but for high school many homeschooling families are  also utilizing classes on line and certainly older teens involved in dual enrollment are most likely using technology.

There is another  brief article about number of hours acceptable per day here on Common Sense Media but there is a large difference between 5 year olds and 16 year olds!  An article here from the UK  looked at 120,000 15 year olds and somehow came up with the numbers that two hours a day on smartphone was “just right” for benefits versus health; about an hour and forty minutes for video game playing; and 4 hours and 17 minutes for computer usage.  If you add all that up, that’s almost 8 hours a day on a device (!!) , so I personally think that still sounds more like an adult working an office job and not what a teenager, even an older teenager should have!

So, the bottom line is that you are going to have to come up with the guidelines that fit your family and what is going on with your children, and check yourself. Are you using tech to check out of your family?  Are your teens using tech to avoid you?  Do they have device use for school?  How does that tally into the number of hours they are allowed on screens in total?  Are they involved in other things other than devices?  Are they younger teenagers or older teenagers?  Where is their balance in life?

Personally, I think wait as long as you can  to have a cell phone or require computer work (so if you are Waldorf homeschooling, this would probably be in high school just like Waldorf schools, so age 14-15); strive for 1-2  hours a day across devices for up to age 14, 2-3 hours a day for ages 15 to 16 and then lessen the controls across all devices for those  16 and a half or so and up in preparation for being out on their own.   You cannot hold it for them forever; at some point they have to become their own authority and manage their own usage.  

Here are few other ideas and tips:

Have a plan: Cell phone contracts can be helpful in the beginning, especially with teens under 16.  Here is an example.   Here is another example.  Again, I  think these are great in the beginning, and for younger teens, but to me once a teen is past the 16 year developmental change, I think the controls should start dwindling.  They are going to be off and on their own and need to learn how to handle technology on their own.

Have “no cell phone zones”  in the house (and this means adults too!) Many families choose the bathrooms and dinner table to be off-limits to phones, and to have all phones docked in a central place at night.  Less temptations.

Choose data plans wisely.  Here is an article about the best cell phone plans for kids and it points out that many times adding a child to your plan will enable you to have control over blocking calls or texts on behalf of that child; that you can cap the number of texts a child can send; you can have a  GPS or a location-tracker on that phone;  control access to mature content and more.  Decide what controls you want, and know that determined teens can get around many of the controls better than you might know, so there must be an element of trust.  This goes back to the age you start to allow these devices access to your teens!

No driving with smartphone in hand.  Not only is this illegal in many states in the United States, distracted driving is a major source of car accidents in the United States, and teens may already be distracted when they are new drivers.  This is a link discussing apps for safe driving with a smartphone that lets you mute incoming texts, etc during driving.  Many new smartphones have these sorts of features right on the phone itself.

Consider social media. The upside of social media is this is where kids are hanging out, whether you like it or not, especially for many girls.  If you think back to when you were on the kitchen phone for hours with your friends or walking the mall (very American in the 1980s and 1990s), this is what social media is today.  Things are so structured for kids, that this is a “unstructured” place to be. As much as many of us as parents don’t like this idea, it is what is going on.

The downside and horrible part of social media includes depression, rejection and exclusion (here is a great article on how to help girls dealing with social exclusion and social media), cyberbullying,  child predators, and more.2011 California study found that teens who were the heaviest users of social media where also the least content, the most depressed, and perhaps generally bored.

Talk to your teens about on-line safety with this article geared just to teens.  This includes not accepting friend requests from people teens don’t know, using privacy settings, not meeting people you meet on-line off-line, not posting things you will regret- remember, the digital image of your teen online is permanent.  For parents, if your child is on social media, you should be on social media and be friends with them. However, most teens are using far more than Facebook or Twitter. Here is a list of more to check out.   And another list, from Common Sense Media, one of my favorite resources. Also be aware that many teens have multiple accounts to keep track of under one platform.  You need to have all passwords and all accounts, and know what your consequences will be if this is broken by your teen.

Talk about the negatives:  Cyberbullying (girls are cyberbullied at higher rates than boys; this article also ties in what happens in real-life in a school setting); cyberaddiction; sexting, (know the sexting laws in your state if you are in the United States!  And make sure your teen understands sexting could be illegal in your state!), teens and Internet pornography (here’s a report on a Canadian study that 40 percent of boys grades 4-11 search out Internet porn).

If your teen is at risk for depression, obesity or addiction disorder, you may need stronger controls. Remember, it is the responsibility of ALL parents of ALL teenagers to  not only set limits, but to engage the child in family activities, activities outside the home, meaninful experiences and to provide that balance that there is real-life out there to be lived and relationships to be had in real life!  Having a smartphone means you have to be MORE involved in parenting, not less involved.  

If you are looking for more information regarding smartphones and teens, here is another link:  Microsoft’s Digital Skills page has great points – like pointing out that  all those selfies that teens post can also end up impacting job interviews and everything else.  The Internet is permanent!  Teach teens to protect their reputation on-line.

I would love to hear how this resonates with you, and what you do in your own family with children ages 12-14 and up regarding smartphones and device usage. How do you stay involved and provide balance?