It is with a heavy heart that I write this post today. A dear friend has called and told me that her fifteen-year-old daughter, Tiffany, has left home to live full time with her dad and his new family. Previously, she and her brother were living half the time with each of their parents. Now Tiffany has no communication at all with her mom or her grandmother, causing tremendous heartbreak and upset. She failed four courses in school last year and her mom fears that she isn’t getting proper supervision at her dad’s, being able to come and go as she pleases.
How could something like this happen? Until a couple of years ago, there was real closeness in this family. What upset the apple cart?
When Tiffany turned twelve, she got a cell phone, and things started to fall apart at her mother’s home. There appeared to be no limits set ahead of time and her involvement with the phone and social media grew at breakneck speed. Arguments began to happen over the time she spent on the phone. When told to shut it off at mealtimes and leave it in another room, she elected not to eat. This lovely and loving girl became obstinate, argumentative and rude. Her mom read parenting books, took a parenting course, consulted a psychologist, then a psychiatrist. Finally, when Tiffany stormed out of the house to go to her dad’s, her mom threw up her hands and collapsed into tears of defeat.
I don’t know how this all evolved and really can’t speculate. When there has been a divorce and there is co-parenting with an ex-spouse, you aren’t able to control what happens at the home of your ex. However, you can decide what happens in your own home and, with kindness, love, and mutual respect set limits in discussion with your children. Everything from mealtimes, bedtimes, doing homework, keeping bedrooms clean and more, can be discussed as well as a way to govern your children’s cell phone use.
Here are three things I recommend:
- Before you get your child a phone, read about tech devices, their effect on kids’ brains, and prepare, with your child’s input, to set some rules/limits/structure right from the beginning on the use of the phone, where it will be kept, when and how it can be used and what the consequences of breaking the rules will be. Also, decide if your child is responsible and mature enough to understand the proper use of a cell phone or smartphone.
- Create an agreement with your child covering the above areas, and have your child sign it. When I say create it with your child, I mean that you should discuss each area, ask for her input, and give reasons for your opinions so that she understands why the rules are being set. If kids are a part of making the rules, they are more likely to abide by them. As a guideline, there is a good article, “Cell Phone Savvy” that has a contract called “Family Contract for Responsible Cell Phone Use” on the U.S. National Crime Prevention Council website.
- Make sure that your child helps to create the consequences of breaking the rules. When she does break one, you can point out that she has helped to decide what will happen when the contract is breached. You, then, aren’t the “bad guy”.
Introducing a tech device into the family needs careful thought and preparation. I’ve written a three-part series on the subject in my blog after studying hours and hours of opinions and suggestions by experts in the field. I urge you to read it and use the helpful ideas on cell phone use by young people.
If you start early, and control the entrance of devices into your home and develop firm guidelines around their use, you’re on your way to avoiding arguments and tearful meltdowns later on. Just remember the Golden Rule of Parenting: treat your kids as you would like to be treated. Understanding and empathy will maintain open conversation so that reason will be sustained. Giving orders and ultimatums could end up shutting down communication.
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