She's 11 and Wants Her Own Phone, Now What?

Her mom knew something was wrong. “I wonder what happened at school today?” the mother of three thought as she watched her 11-year-old trudge up the driveway toward the front door. Her little girl’s head hung low, and the usual smile after waving to her friends on the bus was nowhere to be found.

“Hi, honey! You’re just in time to help me make some cookies.”

“It’s not fair! Everybody else has their own phone except me. Today, Mila came to school with a phone. She showed it to everyone. The whole class was happy for her. Now I’m the only one without one. Why can’t I have a phone like everybody else?”

It is only a matter of time before the little girl gets a phone. I don’t have a problem with the inevitable. Cellular phones are as much a part of our culture in 2018 as is indoor plumbing. And like indoor plumbing, both contain foul odors. When managed correctly, no one notices. Left unchecked the whole house suffers.

In a previous Musing I asked, “What training do children receive before their hands grasp their first phone?” Here is an incomplete directory of ideas and suggestions for training and managing smartphone use in our families.

  1. Put off handing a smartphone to your child for as long as possible. Brenda and I ditched a landline long before it was common practice. No phone on the wall created a problem when we were away from home. What do the kids at home do if they need to make a call when both mom and dad are away or what do we do if we need to make contact with them when they are home alone? Our answer was to have a dedicated pay-as-you go phone available at home. They are mostly inexpensive and easy to manage but not always easy to find around the house, if you know what I mean.
  2. Parents must train and expect children to accept direction and correction in other areas of life before a cell phone becomes part of a child’s identity. If a child shows humility and a willingness to accept guidelines and improvement in other areas, he may be ready for a cell phone; however, if a child offers resistance to parental leadership, the child is not ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. To hand her one is to ask for problems. “Give me my phone!” will be your harsh reality.
  3. In our home any member of our family has veto power over any social media friend on another family member’s account. For example, one of the boys knows one of his sisters follows a boy on Instagram he thinks is a problem. He can veto that friend, and the friend goes away on the app. The same holds for Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and the rest.
  4. In our home we do not allow any private passwords on any phone. All the family members in our home know the password to my phone, and each family member freely offers the password on his or her phone to the rest of the family.
  5. In our home texts received and texts sent are open for mom and dad to read at any time. This is a non-negotiable. As our children have gotten older, our reading of their texts has decreased to the point that it is now virtually non-existent. However, when they first received their phones, we read their text communication daily and, often, repeatedly in the same day.
  6. In our home cell phones have a bed time. When a child goes to bed, the phone goes to bed too on the counter in the kitchen. It stays there until the next morning when the child may retrieve it after the morning routine is complete. We don’t want the last thing our children experience at night to be their phones nor do we want the first thing they experience in the morning to be their phones. We want the last and first to be God and family. The importance of this guideline cannot be exaggerated.
  7. In our home browser history cannot be deleted by the phone’s user. The history can only be deleted by another family member.
  8. In our home cell phones are not the Bible used for worship.In truth I’d suggest this be the practice for all of us. Our phones do not NEED to come in the church building with us. It is nearly impossible not to be distracted by a cell phone’s other uses when it is used during worship. Unless it is put in airplane mode so no push notifications can come through, it will be a distraction. Even then how many of us are disciplined enough to not momentarily check a social media app, not send or read a text, or not go for a two-minute surf on the web? Do you really think your child is mature enough to worship with a cell phone at the ready? Do you really think your child can keep his phone in his pocket and engage in fellowship with other believers before and after worship? I see no reason for cell phones when we gather to worship. If you have one, I am willing to be corrected.
  9. In our home had an app like Moment been available, we would have installed it on phones. These apps monitor usage and allow parents to set limits on children’s phones. We learn to ride a bike with training wheels. Learning to use a cell phone with restraints on time is a wise move.
  10. Before giving your child a cell phone or if you’ve already given your child a cell phone, read together the recent publication 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You. If you act quickly, you can get the book for free in audio format.

Others will have additional ideas that help control an amazing and wonderful device that God has made possible for us to enjoy. If we are to do all to the glory of God, including using a cell phone, then our cell phones must be our servants and never our masters. Guidelines help maintain the relationship between a user and his cell phone.

As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.