TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
When my son was eight, he came home from school one day and told me his classmate had his own smartphone! I remember thinking to myself: “What has the world become? An eight-year- old having his own smartphone! What will he have when he is 18? A Ferrari?”
What followed was, of course, a conversation with my son about why he thought he needed a phone, the pros and cons, and so on. At eight years old, it was easy; the answer was a clear “no” with all the reasons any parents could easily think of.
The recent debate about whether we should allow students to bring handphones to school is a controversial one. The thought of giving your teenager his or her first hand phone is terrifying. Yes, it’s an instrument of connection. But it’s also a symbol of separation, a reminder that your child is now spending enough time at a distance from you – and other supervising adults – to need it. Worse, it’s a harbinger of the dangers lurking in the outside world.
Unfortunately, the risks seem higher today. Just imagine our “sweet, innocent” teenager:
> Racking up hundreds of ringgit in charges for ringtones and school-wide texts.
> Covertly texting at 1am under her pillow.
> With her grades slipping, because she was interrupting schoolwork to answer texts.
> Being pestered by advertisers after giving out her phone number widely – or posting it on Facebook.
> Writing a thoughtless text or worse, receiving or forwarding a sexual joke that was forwarded to the whole school.
> In her exuberance, letting a photo of her partially-clad self get snapped by a chum at a sleepover, which – you guessed it – would be forwarded to the whole school ... and the principal!
> Being stalked by an adult after texting her location widely.
We might not have worried enough. According to Dr Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist specialising in relationship-based parenting in the United States, research shows that virtually all kids who are allowed to keep their cellphone in their room overnight will answer a late-night text, and most of them have spent at least some late nights sending texts.
Only 11% of parents suspect their teens have ever sent, received or forwarded a sexual text, while 41% of teens admit they’ve done so. Only 4% of parents believe their teens have ever texted while driving, while 45% of teens admit that they routinely text while driving!
The problem isn’t with kids today. In fact, I’m betting my generation was more irresponsible socially than my kids and their friends are. No, the problem is that cellphones are an instrument of connection, and tweens and teens are driven to connect.
On the other hand, we want our children to have a cellphone to stay in touch with us – that’s the upside of connection. Fifty-eight per cent of teens say being able to text their parents makes them feel closer. What’s more, kids no longer regard cellphones as a privilege, or even a right, but a necessary communication tool.
Thankfully, communication and supervision can dramatically lessen the risks. With that first cellphone come rules and responsibilities. If you ask your teens what they think the rules should be, and negotiate until you’re happy, they will “own” those rules.
Here are some for your consideration:
> Never write a text message or forward a photo that you don’t want forwarded to everyone in your school, and your parents.
> Set up your charging station in the living room so your phone is not in your room at night.
> Have a life. Don’t feel obligated to respond to texts right away and don’t text until homework is done or during dinner.
> Never post your cellphone number and location on Facebook, or broadcast it beyond your friends (because it leaves you open to stalking).
> PoS – Parent Over Shoulder! When kids first get phones, parents need to check their messages occasionally without warning. This gets kids in the habit of being responsible, of not taking that “risk.”
> Stick to your budget. Find a value-for-money plan and any extra will have to come from their own pocket.
AFAIK (as far as I know), kids are more likely to follow their own rules. When kids have problems with technology of any kind, it’s because they’re having problems, and those problems will show up in the rest of their lives. If your teens have proven themselves to be responsible and considerate people, trust them to show up that way in every facet of their lives.
Hence, the question of whether and when we should allow our teens to own a handphone depends very much on our own discretion based on the parent-child trust factor and perhaps financial ability.
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.