Texting And Talking: Monitoring A Child's Cell Phone Usage

Boys with cell phone and laptopI can remember how cool I thought I was when I got my 1st cellular phone. It was the mid-to-late-90's and I was part of a small minority of high school kids with a cell phone. There were no texting functions. And I couldn't call many of my friends on it, because they didn't have one. But I was definitely cool.

Now, it has become standard for even middle school kids to carry smartphones with messaging and internet functionality. This is great for parents to keep up with children and their after-school/weekend whereabouts. It gives parents more confidence that the children have a way to reach them in case of an emergency. However, parents must proceed with some degree of caution as well. The degree of privacy and autonomy granted by cell phones may allow for some pitfalls for young users. Here are some indicators that a child may need more governance in regards to cell phone usage:
  • Excessive minutes used or text messaging may be evidenced as poor time management when it comes to completing tasks such as homework or chores.
  • Inappropriate messaging or internet usage is increasingly common. This is of course more common with teenagers. You may notice your child becoming overly concerned with privacy.
  • Lots of routine overage charges are a clear indicator of a lack of responsibility and management.
I have a few suggestions regarding avoiding or correcting these behaviors. Cell phones should be charged overnight in the parent's bedroom. This avoids late night activity that keeps kids up too late. Cell phones should not be locked (or parents should know the code). I absolutely feel that while privacy should be granted to responsible children of a certain age, "audits" are justified if behaviors warrant it. Parents should definitely explain this policy early on and make sure that the motivation of concern and caring is clear. Parents should also not abuse their access. This could promote distrust. Hold a child responsible for overages. This may mean reduced allowance or increased chores. One last word of caution: Teen drivers equal inexperienced drivers. In the learning phase of driving, it may be best to put the phone in airplane mode until the vehicle is safely parked. Once driving skills are to par, please purchase a Bluetooth headset. And remember — No Texting While Driving!
Dr. Erica Thomas, Pediatrician, Texas Children's Pediatrics Ripley House