Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Forum: Kids & Technology

I hate to say this because I think it makes me sound like a fuddy duddy, but the world is a different place than it was when I was a kid, especially if we're speaking technologically.

I didn't have a cell phone in high school (I still don't!), if boys wanted to call and talk to me at an unseemly hour of the night/morning - they had to stomach the possibility that their call would be intercepted by my grouchy father (shudder!)

Even if they wanted to talk during civil hours, my parents were aware of it - because I tied up the only phone line in the house.

The internet was essentially in its infancy; I had to wait several minutes for our home computer (and we only had one) to connect to the internet - with all manner of dialing, blaring and static.

Now it seems that every person over age nine has a cell phone and computer access, and they can all text 80 wpm - lol (!)

As a parent, the thing that concerns me about all this is that I fear my child could lead a completely separate life through his/her mobile devices than the one I'm aware of. It seems like the autonomy of a cell phone really cripples a parent's ability to monitor the timing/length of phone calls. And texting adds an additional layer of complexity, allowing all manner of oddly spelled messages to come and go at every hour.

A relevant aside: don't you think kids are willing to say more "questionable" things in a text, rather than face to face or even on the phone? There's a certain degree of removal, anonymity almost, when your words just show up in text on someone else's screen - rather than coming from your mouth and eliciting an immediate response from the person on the other end of the line. I think kids are more bold with what they'll say in a text, which often leads to inappropriate exchanges in that medium. That said, the thought of cyber messages coming and going at all hours of the day and night without my knowledge is unnerving.

Am I a paranoid control freak? Don't answer that.

But do answer these:

* Will you/do you pay for your child(ren) to have a cell phone? At what age will you allow them to have their own phone?

* What level and manner of supervision do you think is appropriate for your child's phone - i.e. is it appropriate for a parent to read their child's text messages? Take the phone after a certain hour?

I would really love for mothers of older children to chime in on this as well - I know you're out there :) How are you handling these issues with your tweens/teenagers?


Mickie and Matt said...

No comments yet! Wow this is a big subject in our home. My husband and I decided that our kids will NOT have cell phones until they are 16-ish (driving age however we are flexible on the age) and yes the phone will be free reign to mom and dad and will be taken away at night. Also when talking on the phone the door to the room they are in must be a little open. Nothing they are saying to their friends can't be heard by siblings or parents. (Pretty sure that was a rule when I was growing up that I hated but now as a parent I totally understand)

My age group was at the beginning stages of what it is now and I am SCARED to DEATH about the things I hear the youth are getting away with and doing these days with cell phones and the internet. I only have a cell phone because my work gives me one and my husband doesnt have one nor does he want one anytime soon. Boy are we backwards for our ages :) I am excited to see what others say.

Stefani M. said...

I dislike cell phones, too. We only have them for emergencies and to talk to my mom (free family plan minutes... the phone's are actually hers). I don't plan on getting my kids cell phones EVER. Haha! When they are older... driving age... they can just borrow our cellphone when they take the car. (Since no one but Grandma would accidentally call them. Heehee.) (Oh, and if they go to a public high school, Daddy is a teacher there, so they don't need a cellphone at school. SCORE!)
But to me, a cell phone would be waaaaaay easier to control--if I decided to get one for my kids--than, say, Facebook. I want to know how to deal with that!

jeanine said...

My oldest is almost 5 so we don't have to deal with this for a few years... but we have talked about it. As of right now we have decided that 16 would be a good age for a cell phone. It would make me feel safer if they had it and needed something (car accident, etc).
My parents bought my sister (who is now 19) a cell phone when she was in high school with limited minutes and texting. It was for emergency use only. If she used it for other purposes and went over her minutes then she had to pay the difference. Now that she's out of high school they pay for more minutes for her but no texting. She decided that she wanted it so she pays them every month so that she can have it on her plan.
One of my friends has an almost 16 year old. He has a cell phone and I know that she reads his texts. I don't know if that's part of the deal they made but I think it's good. I think that if they know their mom is going to be reading it then they'll use more discretion than otherwise.
I'm excited to see what other people have to say about this.

Katrina said...

Olivia (age 9) has already said that many people in her class have cell phones. There is no way she will be getting one for a long time yet. I think probably when she starts driving. Or maybe we'll just let her borrow ours at that point. We'll see. That's what I did in high school. And I like the idea of taking it away at night. My 17 year old brother spends WAY too much time texting in my opinion.

Kalli said...

Ooooh this is a good topic. Cell phones have to be one of the best and WORST inventions of the 20th century. As far as teenagers go, I have no personal parenting experience on this but, having worked with a lot of teenagers (both my hub and I) I do have a few thoughts.

First of all, yes to LIMITS! I believe that unlimited anything is horrible for teenagers, they need expectations and boundaries and as the parent it is YOUR job to hold them to it. This applies to cell phone use as well. I absolutely think parents should have full reign over their teenager's phones including checking them for content as often as they feel necessary, regulating hours and usage, and even going so far as having the phone company send a copy over of messages sent and received (they can do that junk you know, or at least you can threaten with it:-) Second of all, if the behavior goes the cell phone should go too. And don't be afraid to take it completely away. Privileges are earned, and a cell phone is a privilege not a right.

As far as age appropriateness goes, I think high school is probably a good time for that. Don't feed off of pressure from what other kids have or what other parents are giving their kids. I'm not even sold on the idea of "giving" my kids a phone, maybe if they want a cell phone they can earn it, huh. Like I said, privileges must be earned, limits must be set, children are just that, children, not friends. Also, I absolutely believe the same rules should apply for computer use. LIMITS, LIMITS, LIMITS. Whatever you do, don't put a computer in your child's room. Have somewhere quiet for them to do homework, but not in their room.

Mathilde said...

Cell phones are a blessing and a curse. I was a very late adopter of the cell phone and was forced to get one for work. I now cannot live without it. As for my daughter, she is 9 and I know I am going to get a lot of grief for this but we did get her a cell phone this year and we pay for it. The reason we decided to do this is to give her a sense of security in situations where she was not feeling secure. She is a nervous child and the cell phone makes her feel that she can reach out and touch us at anytime (long story about the bus). We have very strict rules about the use of the cell phone and the funny thing is she uses it very little. There is a lot of technology that allows Parents to manage their children's use of the phone. You can limit who calls them and even monitor their texts. I have friends with older children who monitored their children's texting without their children knowing. They gained so much insight about their children that they would not have gained without the cell phone. For now it is a security blanket for my daughter. As she gets older, this may change and I will definitely stay on top of her usage thanks to the technology that allows me too.

Emily Anne said...

mathilde - although some may disagree with you, i hope you don't "get grief." everyone is entitled to an opinion and knowing your nervous child quite well :) helps me understand your reasoning behind a phone. thanks for your comment.

stefani - interesting point you bring up about many layers of complicated technology.

Kalli - I'm with you on many points - limits, being parents first - hopefully friends as well, and especially privileges vs. rights - that line is so often blurred these days.

Thanks for your comments so far, everyone.

LCM said...

We are dealing with this right now as well. Buttercup is in 5th grade and a new school and rides the bus now. I have an extra line left over from when my sister lived with us. Buttercup rides the late bus on Mondays and has often times been seriously late, due to the bus driver not having a designated route. Sometimes, I think it would easier if she had one. However, every time a child gets caught with a phone outside of their locker during the school day, you have to pay $15 to retrieve it. Plus, she doesn't talk to on the phone as it is, I don't want to encourage anything. So we are still debating.
The Facebook thing drives me nuts, there are people I know who allow their children to lie about their age and have a Facebook account. I figure if people who don't have my kids best interests at heart think they should be at least 13, we won't start before then and afterwards they should have no problems having Mom as a friend if they want an account.

liz said...

I'm pretty much in the camp that wants to control every aspect of my kids' lives at this point. My 7, 9 and 12 year-old boys all have friends who have cell phones and would like to know when they can have one -- especially an iPhone so they can access the internet at any time! Answer: possibly at age 16. I would consider loaning my cell phone to a 13-14 year old who is starting to have sort of a social life. I definitely don't want my kids at any age to become these crazy texters I keep hearing about.

I'm starting to be a little concerned about my older two childrens' ability to fit in with their peers (they tend to be a little nerdy, which should surprise no one who knows their parents) and wonder if I might need to loosen up a little, while still closely supervising their use of technology, since like it or not, this is how pre-teens handle friendship now. Anyone else wonder about that?

Kay said...

Hummm...parent of all older children and only broke down and added our youngest to our plan when he was a Senior. I found it hard to ask him not to barrow all his friends cells to make calls. His Junior year I received calls from so many different numbers and I realized that other people were paying for my child's cell phone usage. So we put him on a very limited plan, if he went over he owed us money. Goodness, it was a tough first three months for him, when he went over. He finally figured it out and pretty much stayed with in his minutes. The best thing we did was put unlimited texting on his phone for a minimal charge. Every kids texts and it's cheap.

Now on to my College age daughter. We added her to our plan with minimal minutes when she was going through an abusive relationship and we wanted more contact. I would have paid a thousands dollars a month to just stay in contact during those 4 months.

Mickie is right, when talking on the phone in our house the door stayed open. And 10:00pm was pretty much the time no call zone.

I think if the charger station is in the kitchen or an open family place, you can tell who has their phone at night. If everyone is just trained to put their phone in their charger at night and pick it up in the morning, it's pretty easy to see which kid wants to break the rule.

Okay, I have plenty of other things I could say, but this is long enough.

Malinda Crow said...

I agree wholeheartedly with everything said so far. I taught junior high last year and was amazed at how many kids have cell phones. They are against school policy, so I got much pleasure out of taking them away whenever I saw one (iPods too!).

I think limits and responsibility are the key. If the child is being responsible with it, then he may keep the phone. But no texting during school, keep good grades, etc.

I don't know if I'll give my kids a cell phone. Maybe I'll have one extra line that they can borrow on special occasions like if they will have to call me for a ride home from an activity. But a cell phone is definitely a privilege not a right, so the child must earn it.


How great is it to listen to everyone's opinions! We have a 9 1/2 yr old who weekly asks for a cell phone. He walks home after school and is home for about an hour by himself. We have contemplated a cell phone for his walks but more for my security as a worry wart mother! My husband and I have discussed this and as of now he usually is not anywhere without one of us so there is no need for one. He will more than likely get a cell phone when he is 12. HOWEVER it wont be HIS, it will be one he borrows and it will be monitored. It helps to have his Dad work for a cell phone company and know the ins and outs of cell phone "control" for us.

What about emails? He has a google account, but I have his emails forwarded to my phone (including his chatting history). His only contacts are his cousins, grandparents and a aunt and uncle. I even deleted a contact that was a uncle's girlfriend, which I felt was not an appropriate contact for him. In fact last week he was grounded so I changed the password. I am a firm believer of LIMITS and I am the parent who sets those, not my child!

While Technology can be good and bad, we must arm ourselves as parents with knowledge about the sites, phones, texts that our children use. There is also a wonderful array of software for phones and computers that allow parents the "control" they need to protect their children. It is our responsibility to teach them to use these things for the good and to be careful of the bad. We cant protect them from all evil but we can help them to avoid it.

Rachael said...

We just got a cell phone last year when my mom insisted on buying us an emergency prepaid phone when we were driving across country. (and I was really grateful for it when our transmission died on vacation!) So we're not really cell phone users anyway, mostly because my husband strongly dislikes them. But we do see their advantages.

What we've talked about doing is just having a cell phone in our kids' car. That way it's there in an emergency, and we can get in touch with them when they're not home, but we really want to avoid it being available for use all the time.

Like Katrina mentioned, I'm a little disturbed by how much time/how late my 16-year-old sister spends on the phone--I know there have been times where she's staying at our house and we go to get a baby in the middle of the night and she's still up talking on the phone. That's something I would like to avoid.

When my husband and I were first married, we were ski bus chaperones for a bunch of kids going up to Solitude. Almost every single one had a cell phone (these kids were all about 10-13 years old) and let's just say those bus rides solidified my desire to hold back on the cell phones for my own kids.

And can I also say that the thing that scares me most about the proliferation of all this technology--it's so easy, as Em said in her initial post, for inappropriate stuff to be innocuous. I think kids also fail to realize that whatever they text or email, etc., can be forwarded to the world. And at such a young age, you're not really thinking about those far-reaching consequences. And yes, I think kids are more inclined to say things electronically that they would NEVER have the guts to say face-to-face...I just think it can be really dangerous.

Jonesy said...

I remember when I was a teenager, my Dad gave me and my sisters each a quarter painted with red fingernail polish on one side. If we ever wanted to go anywhere, we had to show him that we still had our "emergency quarter" and it had to be carried with us at all times. If we couldn't produce the quarter, the answer was no! We've come a long way from carrying a quarter for the pay phone!
I'm not against having a cell phone for my kids once they've reached the "going out without supervision" age. Until then, I don't really see the need for it. They're with their friends at school all day, and already (my oldest is 8), we are so busy in the afternoons that sometimes I don't even answer my own cell phone!
As for texting, I'm not a fan AT ALL, mostly for the reasons you stated initially. It gives you too much removal to be immediately accountable for what you "say". It's also a CONSTANT interruption to everything! Talk about turning our kids into super-multi-taskers. I also don't want my children's vocabulary reduced to texting shortcuts.
So, I guess my view for my family is that cell phones are okay for older kids (driving/dating ages), but no texting.
Though I do have 8 years to be convinced otherwise!

Bloom said...

I'm not as concerned about exact age. Particularly because each child is so different (as Mathilde points out). Also, one thing to remember is that pay phones are practically non-existent these days. I can remember calling my mom on a pay phone to pick me up from middle school if I'd stayed late for some reason. If that was my 7th-grader now, I think her having a cell phone for uses like that sounds great. BUT. Of course it's not that simple.

Some of my greatest concerns-
1. Safety, obviously. There is so much nasty stuff being texted and such.
2. TIME WASTING. I can't deal with the 1,976 texts between teenagers about seriously nothing. Such a time suck. I want my kids to be busy and productive and driven and successful.
3. Like Emily pointed out in the original post, I definitely think people will text things they wouldn't speak. Totally dangerous. Also, are these texters learning proper social cues? Do they know how to talk face to face? I feel like with all the virtual-ish media (texting, facebook, etc.) and also with ipods, we've become a society in which we can totally disengage. I hate that.

Anyway, since my kids are tiny, who knows what'll be around when they're a bit older, and who knows what plan we'll come up with to handle it.

I totally believe in setting limits. Even for ourselves. Like I should get off the computer right now and clean my kitchen. And like I shouldn't have just shoved two homemade rolls in my face at once. See? Limits.


Bloom said...

Ooh, I also have to say that I agree with Muthabomb about arming ourselves with knowledge. Because the bottom line is that our kids want to be on phones, have ipods, be on facebook, etc. Even with music, books, and movies--we HAVE to stay caught up on what is out there so we know what the heck our kids are interested in. First of all, it can help us protect our kids. But also, and to me, just as importantly--it can help us relate to our kids. I serve with the youth in our church and if I'll tell you what--being familiar with Twilight has helped me start many a conversation with a quiet girl. Having music in my car that girls like to listen to has made may a ride fun. Obviously we aren't going to like all the same things, but seriously. We can't be fuddy-duddies. ;)

Joan said...

Look at all these concerned, right-wing fundamentalist Moms! :) I say that with admiration and respect...b/c I happen to be one too :)
Anne, couldn't agree with you more. We need to keep up on things b/c knowledge is power. We can fight the movement but it is happening regardless of how we feel about why not have a Facebook account, understand how it works, etc. (one example). I also like your "list idea" here's mine:
1. I am strongly opposed to Internet access on phones EVER. Mainly b/c pornography is everywhere and the last thing my boys need is more temptation in their lives.
2. Computers should be in an open room, clearly visible to everyone in the home.
3. Computer time should be earned like television. Ex: You finished your homework, chores, can watch your one show or spend a half an hour online checking emails, blogs, or playing computer games.
4.As for the texting set up boundaries just like everything else. Teach your child proper phone etiquette in general so that he/she is equipped to use it properly and appropriately. Texting is great when you just need a "yes/no" answer but if you're in the middle of a conversation with someone (who happens to be right next to you) you do not read/answer texts.
5. I am BIG on teaching children about responsibility and money management. My child will pay for some part of his/her cell phone bill. This small "donation" of sorts will allow them to respect their phone and they will take better care of it. I know many kids who lose their phone and mommy and daddy just go buy them a new one. Hello?! What are you teaching your child? ZERO responsibility/respect for things.
6. When I do buy my child a phone (I do not know that "magical age" yet) I will let them know that it is my phone b/c I bought it and I have the right as their parent to sporadically and at random read their texts. They may choose to see it as an invasion of privacy but I choose to see it as a protection to them.
Okay, that's all from me for now. I may come up with more later.

Katie said...

Man, you guys are tough! I haven't thought about it much but I would imagine I will get my kids cell phones at maybe 7th or 8th grade. I want to be able to get a hold of them anytime. ANd rules will be that they ALWAYS have to answer my texts and phone calls. And I will check their messages aanytime I want.

Cell phones are great! I love texting myself. It is so convenient! The internet is what freaks me out.

Sarah said...

I wonder if in 10 years you'll be able to even buy a phone without internet access. which means instant porn/sleaze access. if that's the case, then I can promise you my kids will not have a cell phone at their disposal.

I'm with KATIE and JOAN that that's what scares me the most. and it's so easy to delete text messages folks. Takes about 3 seconds. someone said they can receive their kids text messages?? That's awesome!! a good friend of mine in a bad marriage has tried very hard to do that with no avail so i'm not convinced it's possible.

phone etiquette is HUGE for me. I get SO much crap from every person I know that "I NEVER answer my phone" it's because I think if I'm with someone/talking to someone it's rude to answer it!! And that includes precious time i'm spending with my kids. I swear.. etiquette has gone down the crap shoot these days.

i love text messaging so much I can't imagine my life without it. probably cause I hate spending time talking on the phone so bad. I'd rather have face time ANY DAY but texting is fast and to the point = more time for me to be living my actual life!

my husband sat next to my two nephews during the Priesthood Broadcast session of conference and they sat there texting the entire time!! he wanted to rip their phones out of their OBNOXIOUS hands!!

as far as FACEBOOK is concerned.. I enjoy that too. would just being "friends" with our kids combat that issue? then you have access to their account? Whew.. I don't know.. we're in for it people. Gotta put on that armor of God everyday cause I'm afraid it is going to be the only way to combat all this crap.

Garden Street Zoo said...

I have quite a while to think about this (I have a one year old), but my initial feeling would be to give my child a pre-paid cell phone around middle school age. Not so much for the child's convenience, but for mine (to be able to get ahold of them).

I agree that there have to be limits and supervision with any sort of technology (cell phone, internet, text, facebook). I think that having a pre-paid plan with limited minutes and/or texting would be best, then if the child runs out of minutes, they would have to pay to have more.

As for Facebook, I have a friend with a middle schooler, who finally agreed to let her have a Facebook account, but only if mom and dad got to be her friends. It has actually worked out great. Mom and dad get to have a little more insight into her life and monitor what is being said.

You would be hard pressed to find me without my cell phone, but I agree that technology can be overbearing these days. However, I don't talk/text a ton. Allowing your child to have a cell phone/other techonology at the age you feel is appropriate and with parent supervision, can teach them boundaries and self-control with the use of technology, which is an important lesson these days.

Linda L said...

Great question and you are very wise to be thinking and praying about this before your children reach this age.

We have a 14 year old daughter, whose biological father is not my husband. Her biological father didn't have a land-line so he got a cell phone for her. I would have LOVED to wait until she was 16, I didn't see the need in her having a phone. I regret agreeing to pay for it.

She has a centralized place to charge it and it goes on the charger at bedtime. She is not allowed to take it places when we are having family outings. We are strict and she respects that fact or fears I'll take it away. :)

My husband monitors her Facebook account. I firmly believe that if you allow your children internet access they must be monitored. There are to many predators out there. I know real life people whose children have been preyed upon and lured into bad situations by others, even other teenagers.

For our two other girls they will not be getting cell phones until they can drive, which might not necessarily be when they are 16.

I think it is important to provide opportunities for my teenager daughter to have real face-to-face times with her friends. But sometimes girlfriends just like to talk on the phone. I remember talking to my friends on the phone for hours when I was a teen. My daughter tends to talk more to those who are truly her friends. As time has passed texting has lots it's pizazz.

Being the parent of a teenager is much like being the parent of a toddler. Firm, gentle, consistent loving parenting is a must.

Abbie said...

This is a good subject. I'll have to look at these comments when I'm trying to decide what I believe about technology for kids, because right now I'll probably say something like "I strongly disagree with blah blah blah" and then end up doing it when Eli turns 12.

All I know right now is that I won't let my kids watch anything on TV but PBS. And the only thing on the computer we use is starfall. But that might change tomorrow. I think letting the spirit guide you is crucial in this area.

One more thing: one of the (very small) reasons we got fancier phones is because we strongly feel we need to stay on top of technology. I don't want to be like my grandma who "has no idea what a blog is. Why can't you just send me pictures and stories of your kids every month?"

That's all.

Randi said...

We got cell phones for our kids when they turned 16. We lived a ways out of town so it was a matter of convenience and peace of mind (for me).

We paid for them and every month with our statement we got a report on how many minutes they used and text messages they sent (surprisingly little of either). They were both incredibly busy with school, sports, and extra curriculars; they didn't have a lot of downtime, and when they did they preferred to actually spend it with their friends (instead of just talking or texting them). That might just be the result of waiting until they were older and more mature when they were given a phone but for us it really wasn't a problem.

A phone, just like anything else comes with rules. At a certain point (ours was 9p for calls, 10p for texts) it becomes "too late" for social interaction. And texting during church would be just as rude as sitting there talking out loud to a friend.

I think it's important to teach your kids that it's just a tool. And like anything you get to choose how you're going to use it. "I believe you are ready but if you can't demonstrate that you're ready for that responsibility then, as a parent, it's my job to step in and set boundaries that will help you develop that skill set."