Friday, September 05, 2008


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?
A: Alright
Me: Has that person been there?
A: Yes
Me: And?
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.
A: :)

Okay, she gets to keep her phone another day (but I'll still keep it at night...).


Susanne said...

When Kay was younger around grade 7 or 8, I think, we got a 1-800 #. She could use it at any phone anywhere and call us if she had to. She didn't have to worry about looking for spare change for phone booths. That worked well for us until she went into grade 11 or so when she did get a cell phone. She didn't get unlimited texting until grade 12 when after a missions training trip, she made lots of out of town friends and it was just cheaper than long distance phone calls. I do wish even at that age that we had taken the phone away at a certain time at night, but on school nights she was pretty disciplined on her own for the most part. It was the weekends. And as long as I was paying the bill that phone was up for confiscation for any breeches of behavior. It was my leverage.

Julie said...

Our 15 year old has a telephone - she does not text.

We are putting the boundaries in on how much time she can "chat online" to her friends and cousins.

Barbie @ Mamaology said...

I love your managing verses removing privileges.... I'd love to hear more on how you do this!

Your very wise:) and I'm thankful to listen in on some of your wisdom...let's hope I can actually apply some of it!

Katrina @ Callapidder Days said...

Aw, love that conversation -- especially the "You're amazing" part! Great guidelines here. No cell phones for the kids yet (oldest is 9), but I know it'll be coming. I'm trying to stay ahead of the game by learning about texting, Facebook, etc., etc. now. Of course, I know it'll all change, but maybe, possibly, I can somewhat keep up.

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Barbie - we've certainly removed privileges at times, but what I meant was, not letting them have a phone *at all, ever* which is my first inclination when I see the potential problems this kind of privilege opens us up for. It makes it easier on the parents, I suppose, but I think there are benefits to wading through the mire of this stuff while our kids are still at home. There's a lot we can model for them, and it is a privilege they really want to keep, so it is an awesome incentive for good behavior, as Susanne said =).

Jen said...

Good are the amazing one.....I love coming over here...

katherine said...

i agree with jen -- you're doing a phenomenal job. i love "watching" you parent! it's inspiring. thanks for blazing a trail.
--katherine, senor elefante

Victoria said...

I only have a 3 year old but I love hearing your wisdom in dealing with teens & pre-teens!

"Managing" vs not letting a child have a cell phone makes so much sense! Teaches them responsibility too.

Thanks for sharing...

Qtpies7 said...

That is a great idea to remove the phones at night. I may have to resort to that with one of my kids if he has trouble getting up for school this year.
We don't allow them to have phones until they need one. And by need one, I mean that I need to be able to reach them wherever they are.

I do have the unlimited texting, though. It can get pretty bad, but it has been great for my son, who is 15. He has had poor self esteem because of some learning disabilities, and now he is getting popular and his confidence is soaring. As long as he is responsible, he has the privledge, and he notices that he has a ton of freedom as long as he follows all our rules. He has grown conciderably in respect, obedience and kindness.
My other two kids with phones do not need monitoring. Drew is nearly 19 and going in the military soon, he pays his own bill. And Kaytlin, 17, hates the phone, she only has it for emergencies and convenience when out and about. She doesn't talk and text on it much.

Sharon said...

Great post Katherine!

Your post hit home on many levels. My older two daughters (22, and 19 both have cell phones, both use facebook, etc.) It was a novelty when my oldest daughter had a cell phone, I think this was before texting! I, too, enjoy the security of knowing I can reach my children whenever I need to. My younger daughter is waiting anxiously for her turn to have a cell phone (she's in 7th grade). I've decided that I would rather give her a cell phone than allow her a facebook account.

Thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

These are some great boundaries! I may have to "borrow" a few of these for my gang...I'm not sure they'll be happy about it at first, but they'll appreciate it some day I'm sure.

Andrea said...

UR awesome!
Hee. :)
I do like how you've used what could be a "bad" thing: texting, etc. as a way to communicate with your teen.
A great story.

AussieSaver said...

Hi Katherine! Good job on the cell phone management, putting it in your room at night is a great idea! I was just wondering, more so for the older two children, what do they want to do when they grow up? Do they have college plans? Lawyers? Doctors? I know Neal is really into music, does he want to follow that? It'd be interesting to hear your thoughts on college and how, as a mother of five, you and Dennis will manage with it all.

Christy. said...

Thank you so much for this post. It is so helpful in knowing when cell phones are appropriate and what the boundaries are. We are a few years away from it but I am going to remember the neutral location bit, that is genius!!

Jamie said...

These are some great guidelines! Sounds very similar to what goes on in our house. I love some of the 'conversations' I have had with my teens via text messaging.