I thought I'd throw out a few comments here about unplugging.
Our older two have cell phones, for better or for worse. They are often at games - very far from home now! - and they have crazy, unpredictable schedules. So, while our kids may sometimes think that the sole purpose of having a phone is to text their friends, we know it's so they can call me when it's time for me to come pick them up!
And, much as it irritates me, "social media" like text messaging, MySpace, Facebook are a huge, integral part of this generation's communication culture. The kids are still "talking," just talking to twenty different people at the same time!
I can't tell you how many times I've threatened to throw cell phones out the window (usually when I'm on a "media rampage" which includes TV and computers, too!) but Dennis is always the voice of reason. He brings me back to our philosophy of trying to teach our children to manage. This is much messier than just removing the privilege altogether, but hopefully this will pay off when they are on their own and they have to make decisions on their own about media use.
All in all, the phones are mostly "for better." We've had our share of issues (overuse, mostly) but thanks to some much-needed hand-holding from my sister, Rachel Anne, we've managed the panic, and are coming through on the other side.
So, for us, part of managing means some basic boundaries.
* You get a phone when you need one and can take care of one, not when you want one. Our kids have had to share one, borrow others' phones or go without. When they start being gone from us for extended periods for sports or extra-curricular activities, that's when we consider it.
* You will have limits on phone minutes and text minutes. Unlimited texting is evil (we've tried it). Kids text each other stuff like, "'SUP." Um, get a life. Our kids have moaned, "Why can't you be like all the other parents who just don't care?" An excellent question, and one I consider a bit of a challenge. How much time do you have while I list all the reasons?
* You will have some manners. No texting or answering the phone at the table, or when adults are trying to make conversation with you (this includes rides with me in the car). There is nothing more annoying than talking with a teen, asking them about their classes, their life, their family, and then having them stop in the middle of your pleasant conversation not only to check, but also TO REPLY to a text message. You have GOT to be kidding!
We tell our kids, "THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IS THE ONE WHO IS WITH YOU, IN THE FLESH, RIGHT NOW." Emergencies notwithstanding, text messages and cell phone calls are cyber interruptions to what is happening in the real world. Don't let your destiny (okay, or how long it takes to get your homework done) be determined by a capricious adolescent's interruption. The whole purpose for text messaging and voice mail is so that you can reply to your friends when it is convenient FOR YOU. They can wait.
* You will have to unplug. Our kids plug their phones in in a neutral location at night. We have not always been good about this, but we are now fiercely protective of this right. This keeps my child far from temptation's grasp, and lets their friends know that it better be good if you are going to call, because you have to *gasp* call on the HOME PHONE.
The other night Allie-15 had tucked her phone in for the night. The home phone rang, and it was a friend needing homework help. I went to bed around 10, and at 10:40 I could still hear her talking. I went out to see what was up.
"We're almost done. Look, only two more pages."
Allie had already "helped" with the previous EIGHT pages. I was livid. This was not HELPING with homework. This was DOING someone else's homework.
I made her hang up immediately.
We had a good conversation about it - more talks about boundaries - but I couldn't help but think that I would have never known this was happening if she had been on her cell phone, in her room. But how nice to be able to say, "My mom says I have to hang up now." Ahhh. One less difficult decision my child has to make regarding freedoms.
*Even parents can learn to communicate with the new "social media."
Yesterday Allie came home discouraged because a particular girl had said some mean things to her. She was still upset about it when I took her to the Freshman football game, and (in our new Small Town) this girl was sure to be there. So after I dropped her off, I texted her. Here's our conversation:
Me: How's everything?
Me: Has that person been there?
A: I don't know someone told me that she was walking behind me and she pretended to kick me and walked away. But I don't care. I'm being strong.
Me: I'm proud of you. You do the right thing no matter what, and that is what makes you a true friend.
A: Thanks Mom. You're amazing.
Me: Hang in there. See you tonight.
A: I love you.
Me: Love you too. You're my girl.
Okay, she gets to keep her phone another day (but I'll still keep it at night...).