“Fail! And fail fast!” Isn’t that the new jargon of college graduation speeches these days? Meaning, if you are going to make mistakes, try to do them soon enough to recover and move on. Well, if failing fast is the new success, then we are off to a really great start with my daughter’s new smartphone!
As any parent knows, deciding whether or not to provide a phone for a tween is a far more controversial subject than anything debated in Washington. Like many families, we long resisted buying our young daughter a phone for reasons as rational as cost and responsibility, and as ridiculous as fear and moral superiority; however, once our daughter hit middle school—a big change in lifestyle for all of us—we felt her activities, age, and level of maturity had tipped the scales. She was out of our sight more often, and the days of “Mom driving her to activities—waiting for her—and then bringing her home” had all but disappeared. Other, lesser-known parents were carpooling, and even more unusual, she was actually walking places. A phone would allow for better communication and scheduling for all involved, and, frankly, I wanted the assurance of being able to reach out and “touch” her at any time.
We knew there would be ups and downs; we had read the horror stories online, but we did our research and tried to prepare ourselves the best we could. She knew she would be getting an iPhone, as we are “Apple people,” but in order to have her feel a sense of earning this new privilege, we assigned her a summer reading list of 15 classic novels to complete before she could have it. A win-win for everyone: Books like Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird took on a whole new perspective, as she read her way to communications independence, and my husband and I earned the dubious title of “those parents that started that horrible books for a phone” trend in our area.
So, after just 6 months, although there were many perks and some solid successes, it was amazing to see how fast the bad results came in:
Fear: “She will turn into a texting zombie!”
Reality: Her adolescent need to text her friends and watch videos was regularly derailing even the most ardent determination to complete homework or household tasks. Also, using her phone as an AM alarm meant her phone was in her room late night, with no parental supervision, lit up at all hours, and sounding like a pinball machine.
Fear: “She can’t take care of it!”
Reality: In her mere 6-month ownership, our tween has had to both rice-bag her drowned phone (successfully) and replace the shattered face glass (at her own cost). Furthermore, as a top honor student, she has had the novel “honor” of being disciplined publicly by the school dean for using her phone inappropriately at school (texting ME, of all things).
Fear: “She will run up your bill!”
Reality: In her very short cell phone life, she has single-handedly (and unknowingly) blown out our data plan for each of the last 3 months from streaming an inordinate amount of videos and music over her phone. Even worse, her phone settings were incorrectly arranged and made her phone a non-wifi-seeking nightmare.
However, as all parents know in matters of child development, failure isn’t an option. And the new convenience (for me, especially) of 24/7 access to my daughter was now a non-negotiable, so our family had to figure out how to learn from these issues and move forward more successfully. Fast!
So, here are some tips for “parents of new tween cell phone users” that may spare you our pain, and cost, but if not, just remember, failure is the new road to success!
- A quick online search will provide many prebaked Internet Contracts for children. Discuss your expectations and then enforce early and often. Don’t hesitate to check spontaneously on their phone for inappropriate use (images, text and social media content) and refer back to your contract’s expectations. Constantly reconsider access to social media and any limits needed.
- Have tweens charge phone outside their rooms at night. Late-night phone contact, noise, and even light have been proven, at best, to disrupt sleep and, at worst, to encourage inappropriate online behavior.
- Monitor monthly data usage on phone bill to determine which phone lines are impacting data the most and respond accordingly. Control cellular data usage by limiting auto updates of apps, or possibly consider disabling tween’s ability to download apps altogether.
- Check settings to ensure wifi is used as often as possible, rather than cellular data, to limit impact to phone bill. Use as few “streaming” apps as possible (particularly video- and music-playing), especially when not on wifi.
We may have “failed the semester,” but with these new fail-safes in place, I refuse to believe we will “flunk the class.” In fact, I can hear success calling right now. At 2 AM. From my daughters’ room!