What Are Sensible Rules for Tween Cellphone Use?

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

Does your family have rules about cellphone use? Or do you just make it up as you go along? Those are the questions posed by KJ Dell’Antonia, mother of four, as her 13-year-old son acquires his first cell phone. He saved his own money to buy the phone and will pay for his share of the family plan out of money he earns in the future. The family has limits on other technology—no TV on weekdays, for example, unlimited on weekends—but cellphones are uncharted territory.

So far they have only one rule: Mom gets the passcode to the phone and passwords to any social media accounts. And she did give him a primer on etiquette and safety in the digital age:

“We’ve had many, many talks about the public nature of every exchange, and about the way you might trust your friend not to forward a text or email or screenshot a Snapchat, but can you really trust his older sister if she happens to pick up his phone? Anyone dragged into the public pillory by an unexpected video, or a tweet or text, becomes fodder for what could be described as our family’s personal ongoing crash course in the perils of modern living.”

But perhaps an even bigger concern than time or the “public pillory” might be how the cellphone will affect family dynamics. Dell’Antonia’s daughter registered her concern that her brother wouldn’t talk to her anymore, that he’d now be interested only in his phone. And so she opened a conversation with him:

“‘I don’t want you to look at the phone,’ I said, ‘instead of us.’

There was this sort of pregnant pause, as he looked at me, and considered what I’d said. A meaningful pause. And suddenly, I knew what it meant.

‘Do you feel like I do that to you?'”

Oof. As technology evolves—and as kids get older—families have to negotiate new boundaries. At the very least, parents and can benefit from one piece of her advice: Read it twice before you press “send.”

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