Kids and Cell Phones

When should your kid get a cell phone? Each of our boys received one, of the most basic sort (not an iPhone) when they entered middle school. Here in Boulder, middle school starts in sixth grade. When I grew up we called it junior high and it began in seventh grade. This town is a little fast for me, but that’s another story.

I thought sixth grade was a bit early for the privileges of a cell phone. Still, I enjoyed the “electronic leash” that I now had on the boys. It gave them more freedom, and it gave me more control (maybe that means it actually gave them less freedom). I now could reach them whenever I wanted.

The luxury of having a cell phone (did you know there are more cell phones per person on this planet than toilets?!) comes with a host of responsibilities for parents and their teenagers. Kids and cell phones aren’t necessarily a great combination to say the least.

The bright screen on a cell phone can disrupt circadian rhythms in the body and interfere with melatonin production, which can in turn wreak havoc upon sleep. Screens in the bedroom are not a good idea for adults or children. As I mentioned in my post on natural sleep remedies, when I built our new house I created a cell phone station for the boys at our mail desk, and one for myself in our mudroom. In the mudroom, I designed cubbies with outlets for charging cell phones. I happily use my station every night. My cell phone does not come in the bedroom with me.

How to Control and Limit Your Child’s Cell Phone Usage

1. Answer Your Phone When I Call

The only reason you have a cell phone is so I can speak with you.

2. Tuck in Your Cell Phone at Bedtime

Cell phones are not permitted in the bedrooms at night.

3. Your Phone is Grounded

If you forget to tuck your phone in, you lose it for one day, maybe more if we think you need a bit of reinforcement with this consequence.

4. Old Fashioned Alarm Clocks in Bedrooms

All of our bedrooms have alarm clocks that do not glow in the dark so that we can get a good night sleep and set them for when we need to wake up, rather than use the alarm on the phone.

5. Misbehave and Lose Your Cell Phone

Given how much kids love ’em, this is a fabulous consequence.

This generation of children does not know what it’s like to live without information, and the devices that provide it instantly, at their fingertips. We are conducting a mass experiment on the brains of the young. Who knows how it will turn out? Unlike my generation, this crop of kids is paperless and fully wired. They don’t covet books, they read on a screen. To me this is weird. I still read paper books and I love the feel, smell, and look of them.

Here’s an example of some generational differences. On a sunny summer afternoon one of my sons and his friend Mason decided to go tubing on Boulder Creek (just a few blocks from our house). They had on their swimsuits, and inner tubes in hand were about to run out the door. Then they realized they could not take their phones on this creek adventure. Cell phones have almost become an appendage when it comes to our children. The boys were concerned. They asked how I would reach them. Go without your phones, I said. Enjoy an afternoon of doing whatever you want, and enjoy that you will be free and that I won’t know exactly where you are. This was a new concept to them. They had a look of bewilderment in their eyes as they walked out the door, ready to lap up some good old fashioned, cell phone-free fun.

I have many cell phone free moments, and hours. Stay tuned for my upcoming post, How I Saved Myself from My Cell Phone. In the meantime, leave a comment and let us know how you handle your kids and their cell phones. What’s your favorite strategy?


30 responses to “Kids and Cell Phones”

  1. Rules- the phones are not allowed to be used at a friend’s house (no we browsing). The phones are not allowed to be used at home in the house. The phones can be used in the car, such as going to and from school. This way, they are forced to be sociable face to face, and won’t get a hunched neck from hunching over the screen too much, and any EMFs are kept to a minimum.

  2. My son is in 5th grade and started middle school this year. I felt as you did, I held out until Christmas. The middle school does not communicate like elementary and he stayed after for clubs and extra help etc…Having his own phone made it much easier to communicate. Phone is never allowed in his room, always downstairs. He is not allowed to carry it on his person ALL THE TIME, it has to approved by me or dad. (When we go to dinner shopping etc…) He is only allowed approved contacts. I pay monthly 4.99 with Verizon. I see every text and phone call. I also set the times with the program of when he can use the phone. After 645 am until 700pm, then Verizon shuts it off. I use the phone as a tool for good behavior. For example if I’m recognizing for positive, I will add time or if needed subtract. I will also take the phone away if it is warranted.

  3. My boys (12 and 10) have basic phones for talk and text (no pictures or emojis) mainly so they can reach us while skiing, playing in the neighborhood, etc. It seems my 6th grader is one of the few in his circle without an iPhone and data. Due to the lack of features on their ZTE $0.99 phones, they are not attached to the to them and I usually have to remind them to charge/bring it with them.

  4. If anything I have trouble getting my boys to remember their phones! They were just never into them and my oldest had a flip phone until he graduated college. My youngest has the most basic service, no data plan and generally forgets his phone 50% of the time. They didn’t even want anything more than that.

    I think the best tip is to avoid data plans, and get a boring phone. I find that I can hardly tear patients away from their phones even during their medical appointments. I am trying to conduct a medical exam and ask them to put their phone away and they resist. It’s bizarre!

    • Hi Amy, thanks so much for your comment! That’s very unfortunate that your patients resist putting down their phones. Great to see you here continuing the Colby Drive connection :-)

  5. I love this post and I’m looking forward to your follow up post on saving yourself from your cell phone! I just ordered the alarm clock so I can stop keeping my cell phone on my nightstand overnight, but I’ll still charge it overnight in our bedroom since we don’t have a land line and I want to be reachable in case of emergency. Do you have a land line in your house? We haven’t had one in years, but I’m beginning to think there are some practical reasons to bringing it back.

  6. Thanks for this post Elana. I struggle with the phone issue every day with my teenage daughter (14.5 now), my friends and myself! After reading your post I went on Amazon to buy an alarm clock and came back empty handed. Do you use battery operated or plug in clocks? Which is the lesser of evils? I read ages ago that having a clock plugged in near your body (especially your head) disrupts sleep. But I hate to waste all those batteries … And then there’s the ticking, or the brightness or the blinking. I’m overwhelmed just thinking about it. I actually ended up here because I want to make something with almonds, chocolate and xylitol and I ended up reading about phones. Go figure!

    • Hi Venus, thanks for your comment! For info on the alarm clock I use in our bedrooms click the words “alarm clock” (in #4 of this post) and you will be taken to the exact product I keep in our home :-)

  7. Love this! I am actually praying that my kids spouses are not growing up tied to phones, that their parents are protecting them from the porn at hand :) (I hear story after story from my friends who give their very good, Christ loving boys, phones.) We have “family devices” they can use only in the family room when others are around or in the kitchen. No phones until they drive & simple phones at that. Good job mama!

  8. Great article! My kids don’t get cell phones until they drive. And they don’t start driving until they have graduated high school. If they need to be picked up, they call from the school office or pay phone ;) It eliminates a lot of issues because they are basically adults at that point. Some complained that they were the only one without a phone, most just accepted it.

    • The only problem we have here where I live is that there are no phone booths anymore. Maybe a few in the whole city. And we have just over a million people here so even those phones are usually vandalized. Sometimes a cheap phone with a super cheap plan is a safer solution. Some phones can have preset numbers in them with no data plan and the parents can program the working numbers in. My coworker has two kids with phones that cost about $10 – 15/month. I think this solution works best. It’s limited use and you can still regulate the use of the phone. Maybe a good policy would be ‘no use of the phone in the house, in class or in a social occasion’. When the kids walk in the door all phones go into a small basket or drawer in the front hall or kitchen. When they leave they pick it up.

  9. We have pretty much the same rules in our house (blended family with five kids, 17 to 7 – only the eldest has a cell). After some issues recently with the eldest child, we had all the kids sign and electronic device contract to include cell phones, iPods, XBox, etc. It clearly states the rules of the house regarding electronic devices (earning a certain GPA, completed homework, turning in devices at bed time, clean rooms, behavior) and the consequences for not following those rules. After the problems we’ve had, specifically with cell phones, we have decided that none of the kids will get cell phones until they are driving.

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