Is there a conversation that parents dread more than the ‘birds and the bees’? Yes, and it’s officially the ‘can I have a mobile phone?’ conversation! We’ve had this in our house since last Christmas when J first started asking for one, then in the summer for his birthday and again now because his current best friend, Jack, got one at the start of the new school year. At 10, I still think J is still too young for a mobile phone but most of his friends have one, so he’s beginning to stick out by its absence. It came to a head when a visiting friend came with her two children and Chloe, her 7 year old, whipped out a mobile phone (it was designed for children) and started showing it to J.
M had a mobile when she first came to us and then we found out after 6 weeks that she also had a secret mobile phone that Mum had given her. We talked about trust, responsibility and her safety and we managed the ‘phone situation on an ongoing basis. As it was an older design phone with no app or internet capacity, our concerns were more about her whereabouts and safety rather than what she was watching. Over the years, we have used the Smart Phone as a reward for M and she got her first one at 14 with a very strict password and age appropriate settings. We were also able to use it to help her manage her anger, and on the only occasion she used it to inappropriately to photograph another girl who was being bullied, we took the phone off her. She has since said to me that it was the hardest week of her life and she has never abused it again. The other deal breaker was that the phone wasn’t for her benefit, but ours. If we text or call her, we expect her to reply. If we ask her where she is, we expect her to answer and again, we have had to remind her of the rules and ensure she keeps to them otherwise she can take several hours to reply. M did ask me not to ‘phone her as she said nobody ever ‘phones anyone, EVER. They just text. Apparently actually ‘phoning someone is old fashioned. Who knew?
After J had a mini melt down about Chloe’s phone, we understood J’s frustrations and that we were causing him to be different from his peers, whatever our reservations. So we started the conversation and gave him some goals to work towards which he was thrilled with. J is very goal orientated and is still motivated by a reward chart. He has to pick up his toys in his room every day, try one new food item every week and work through his homework without storming off if he doesn’t understand it. It’s worked very well and J has been with me long enough now to know I keep my word to him. He only has two more weeks to go and then we will buy him one. We will buy it anyway, even if he doesn’t fully achieve his goals, as he’s tried hard and has put real effort in. Every time we talk about the mobile phone, we reinforce safety and how we want him to behave with it. He is not having a Smart Phone, we’ve told him that is for another year or two down the line and he has accepted that. We’ve also talked about the rules and boundaries:
- Who he can call or text
- That he should never accept a call from a number he doesn’t recognise
- No mobile phone at school – this is easy as J’s school has a ban on all technology or devices except laptops for school use only
- It will not be used at mealtimes (a constant battle with M), while doing homework or at bedtime
- There will be an agreed daily limit of time when he can use it
- The ‘phone is his responsibility and if he loses it, it won’t be replaced
- There will be no Wi-Fi access or apps added unless approved and downloaded by us
- If he uses it inappropriately, it will be confiscated (such as not answering a text or call from us, taking or sending unsuitable photos or texts, bullying and abusing the time limit or budget)
- We talked to him about call and text costs and his budget which he is expected to stick to
- We have the right to check his phone
J is delirious and his room has never been tidier. It’s been a long time since I was able to see what colour his carpet was, for the layers of Lego and action figures. I am concerned but I understand it is a part of normal growing up now. Some of his friends have had mobile phones for years but most of their parents don’t have to consider what would happen if one of J’s family contacted him on the mobile phone, which is one of my biggest worries. I spent the first 2 months stressed about who was calling or texting M when she first got her smart phone, or what if she was able to reset the password and watch porn? I still worry about Snapchat, Whisper, Instagram and other apps which she uses, and told her if she makes her Instagram account private from me, then the ‘phone is gone. Although it’s normal to worry about what your child is watching or who they are talking to, I have come to realise the biggest mistake parents or guardians make nowadays is not keeping up with technology.
Want to know more about how to protect your child on a mobile phone or tablet? Click here for the Ofcom consumer guide to buying your child a device. Family Lives also offers a good guide to online bullying.