Our Cellphone Rules

08drill_CA0-articleInline Last Christmas, after much internal debate, we got Jonah an iPhone. He joined the 20% of American children who have their own phones.

With two kids arriving home at the same time, after-school pick up was complicated. Jonah and I needed to confer about getting home on snowy days, and he needed to tell me about spontaneous review sessions with his teacher. He had been agitating for one for ages, because his friends had them. We decided on an iPhone, because I was getting one, and we could put both phones on the same phone plan.

On hindsight, the iPhone was too much phone for Jonah. He didn't need access to the Internet or apps or anything. A cheapo model would have been better, but you can't take back a Santa present (without just cause), so we have to live with it.

Our town had a well publicized scandal last year. Middle school girls sent pictures of their boobs to their boyfriends using the school's e-mail system. The boys thoughtfully shared those pictures with the rest of the community. The school was in danger of prosecution for distributing child pornography, since the photos were distributed through the school's mainframe.

This wasn't an isolated incident. A  girl who lives down the block received pornography on her cell phone from a disturbed boy in her class. Through the grapevine, I heard about harassing text messages and other garbage. 

Knowing about these problems, we established certain rules for its usage. 

We told Jonah that if he gets an inappropriate text message or photo, he had to tell us about it immediately. If he told us, nothing would happen to him. If he got something and didn't tell us, he would lose the phone.

How would we know if he got something that was inappropriate? We told him that we would read all his text messages and e-mail conversations. We read these message on his phone or on the AT&T website. We explained that anything sent via the Internet is NOT PRIVATE.

This is actually a lesson for everyone. Information can be forwarded or accidentally sent to the wrong person extremely easily. Workplaces are increasingly reading all Internet communication, because they are held legally responsible for the content of these communications. One off-color e-mail in the workplace can be cause for immediate dismissal. Former friends or boyfriends can post private information on the Internet, which future employers will find. It's stunning how many teenagers do not know the important rule that one should never post pictures of your boobs on the Internet. Ask all those former American Idol contestants why that's a bad idea.

We also had to put in major parental controls on that iPhone. Without the parental controls, Jonah would have access to wonder apps, including The Sex Positions Game and 69 Positions Lite

We took off the YouTube app, because a search for SpongeBob can easily lead to a homemade film of Spongebob doing unspeakable things to Patrick. There are no parental controls for YouTube.

We also had to establish certain rules about phone etiquette, including one should not text, while your grandparents are visiting. Never text at the dinner table. No staying glued to the iPhone for more than five minutes, unless you're Mom and the Oscars are on.

With those rules and some serious parent controls, we haven't had any problems. I've checked out his texts. It's mostly he and his friends laughing their asses off over the creative use of the word "fart." He did get a text from a precocious girl in his class that said, "I love you. Only kidding." Jonah was too horrified and confused to deal with it, so I wasn't that worried.

Technology has increased the difficulty level of parenting in many ways. Most parents don't know how to tweak the programs to protect their kids. They don't know that they need to regulate its usage.


25 thoughts on “Our Cellphone Rules

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, tips and approach to technology use and kids. It’s a struggle for most of us to know how much to allow and how much to restrict. I thought your point about nothing on the internet being private was thought provoking in relation to that being your reasoning for reading all his communications.It makes sense to me and will probably how I approach the topic with my kids in the next few years.


  2. At our house you are 14 before you get a phone. And not an iPhone, a regular phone. With our two older girls (now 18 and 16) that was the norm. None of their friends had phone before that. However, our third child is 12 and she bugs us constantly. Half her friends have phones. We’re sticking with 14. In her life, there is really no real reason to have one before then.
    Our 11 year old niece got busted at Christmas because she and friends were sending pictures of themselves in bikinis to boys. Now the phone is gone. Luckily my kids run in circles where behavior like that would be horrifying to them.
    Our older daughters are supposed to put their phones in the backseat when they drive. I think they do for the most part. They’ve seen several horrifying videos on texting and driving and I presume they take it seriously. However, they both will text me from class once in awhile. Drives me nuts. They swear they never text their friends from school. Riiight. And I didn’t sneak beer out of the fridge for senior party.


  3. This seems like a reasonable set-up (I might save this for when my nephews are old enough to start agitating, although I’ll have to update it as the tech itself updates), and it’s always good to reinforce that the internet is Not Private. We used to emphasize that in the mandatory technology orientation in college in the 1990s (took it once as a freshman, then taught it my remaining years), and I think the same script is even used today. And yet my alma mater still has email flare-ups and scandals now and then.


  4. I think it’s easier with boys than girls. My son doesn’t want a phone, and it’s not an issue at his school. My daughter wanted one well before she received one, and she was one of the last in her grade to get one. We finally gave her a prepaid model because we had reason to believe that after-school activities weren’t adequately monitored at her school. One girl reputedly had to call for help from within a bathroom, when a boy was attacking her.
    For boys, the problem arises once the girls start sending them pictures. In our state, several sexting scandals have popped up, all in middle schools. It must be spring.


  5. Yes, he’s a spoiled, spoiled boy, Julie. We got him a model that was about to be discontinued, so it was the same price as a regular phone. We didn’t realize until it was too late that iPhones have an extra $30 per month fee tacked on. Us = morons.


  6. Hey, no comment meant about Jonah’s being spoiled, more about my relative uncoolness with phone technology. Good to know about the extra $30 data fee. That only furthers my decision to stay with a chump phone.


  7. On another note — it is unfortunate that the rise of cellphones has been accompanied by the removal of pay phones — which provided relatively cheap alternative for communication between kid and parent. Now, even collect calls on pay phones (if they can be found) can be exorbitant — the NYT did an article about pay phones in JFK airport charging something like $50 per minute for collect calls.


  8. Indeed, you can’t rely on payphones any more. I once got caught with an uncharged cell phone, while waiting for a pickup, and couldn’t find a pay phone for the life of me. The store check out person tried to let me use their phone, but it turned out that the phone was blocked — so that you couldn’t call out to non approved phones.
    And, Julie G. — you have to get an iPhone. They’re just a necessary device these days. Once you have one, you won’t understand how you ever did without it.


  9. “And, Julie G. — you have to get an iPhone. They’re just a necessary device these days. Once you have one, you won’t understand how you ever did without it.”
    I’m really impressed with all the stuff that people are able to do with them. It’s like getting superpowers. We haven’t made the jump yet, although my husband has a Treo, which is nice for trips. Current objections to the iphone:
    1. It’s too expensive now. It will be cheaper to get an equivalent in a year or two as competitors move into the market.
    2. It ties you to a particular cell phone provider that we wouldn’t normally choose.
    3. My husband is a bit of a Macophobe after a couple of years tied to a Mac laptop for work.
    4. It’s very unlikely that I personally would do all that cool stuff with an iphone, if I owned an iphone.
    If I spent more time just waiting around on the go or on public transportation, I could justify it a lot more easily.


  10. We don’t have an iPhone, but my wife has an iPod Touch and I love the thing. Plus, now I know how many of my immediate neighbors have wireless.


  11. you have to get an iPhone. They’re just a necessary device these days. Once you have one, you won’t understand how you ever did without it.”
    That’s a big part of the reason why I don’t get one. That, and that I can’t really afford it. Then again, I didn’t have a cell phone at all until 2006 or something like that, and then had the most primitive one possible until it broke. But I can see how cell phones could be useful for kids. I know I would have liked to have had one some of the times when I sat in the dark for an hour or so after a sports lesson waiting for someone to remember to pick me up from a place where I couldn’t walk home. (I didn’t blame my parents- when you have 5 kids, like they did, it’s sometimes hard to remember who is supposed to pick up which kid. But the waiting was unpleasant.)


  12. “4. It’s very unlikely that I personally would do all that cool stuff with an iphone, if I owned an iphone.”
    Hah, you just think that now, ’cause you don’t know any better.
    (I can’t deny #1 & 2, though. #3 is just odd – a Macaphobe? and not just ’cause they cost too much? Have you ever met any others?)
    Oh, and Laura — once you’re out of the contract period, an iphone becomes an itouch.


  13. “(I can’t deny #1 & 2, though. #3 is just odd – a Macaphobe? and not just ’cause they cost too much? Have you ever met any others?)”
    Nope, but I don’t know a lot of other techies. I can’t quite follow my husband’s explanation (we are a mixed techie/technophobe couple), but he mentioned something about disliking the mouse-based interface.


  14. “he mentioned something about disliking the mouse-based interface.”
    Then he must be having problems with the way Windows has developed too, particularly with Vista and 7. Linux?


  15. “Then he must be having problems with the way Windows has developed too, particularly with Vista and 7. Linux?”
    As I said, I’m the technophobe in the family–I just know where the “on” button is.


  16. We’re constantly fending off requests for a phone from the Bee–who is one of only 2 kids in fifth (!) grade with out a phone. Her best friend recently told her, “If you don’t have a phone on the first day of sixth grade, I don’t know how we’ll stay friends,” which really upset her.
    On the other hand, she (the best friend) is mostly agitating for the Bee to get a phone because she’s getting bullied over text message by one of the other girls in their class, and her mother just had to institute new texting rules, so that’s not a very compelling case for the Bee getting a phone, IMO.


  17. I’m sure that our phone habits will change dramatically at some point, but right now, we have basic phones with no text or web-browsing plans attached. We can access the internet or send a text if we need to, but it costs us a per-unit charge, so mostly we just don’t. We’re with AT&T, because they’re the company that gives us more than 2 bars at home, on an old 450 minutes for $39.99 plan, and we have a rollover balance of 4200 minutes. Clearly we live in the dark ages. (It matters that we get crappy coverage inside the house — we couldn’t give up our land line if we wanted to.)
    I believe the people who praise the iPhone, but there is nothing right now that makes me think I want to spend the extra monthly fees to get one. Is this a case of, you can’t miss what you’ve never had? Because I really don’t miss it.
    Then again, spouse has a 3G-enabled netbook for work, so it’s not as if we go internet-free while traveling, and I’m writing at home or in a university library every day, so it’s not as if I’m ever far from the internet anyway.
    I would REALLY like to see regional patterns of childhood cell-phone use. My cousins’ kids in one of the fancier Twin Cities suburbs all got cell phones at age 12, going into seventh grade. That was the tipping-point age for their school district. I am very much NOT surprised that the tipping point is earlier in northern Jersey. And if you told me every six-year old in LA had a cell phone, that would make perfect sense.
    I have remarkably few friends with older kids in our school district, so I have NO IDEA what the tipping point is here. I know that only a very few third-graders have them, and they mostly seem to be the kids whose parents work long hours and can’t afford after-school childcare.


  18. My 10 year old doesn’t have a phone. She’s never in a position where I feel she needs one. Some of her classmates have them; I’m not sure how many, to be honest. One day she was at a party at a friend’s house, and one of her friends spent all her time on the cell phone, talking to whom, she didn’t know. She was put off by that.
    My husband and I have crappy cell phones through Credo, formerly Working Assets. It’s honestly the reason I don’t get an iPhone. We’ve been with WA/Credo for over 10 years. Whenever I call them, they tell me how long. I don’t call them often. 🙂 Credo is a non-profit, and any profits they earn go to progressive causes that their customers vote on annually. I like that.
    I have an iPod Touch that I love (and that my daughter plays games on–she has it now, in fact), except the damned Home button is broken, so it’s impossible to switch between applications. In order to change apps, I have to turn the damned thing off to get to the Home Screen. I took it to the Genius Bar, and they told me I’d just have to get a new one. Ugh.


  19. The teenager has a very, very basic cellphone and we’re considering getting him something better in a couple of months. He rarely carries it with him because it doesn’t really do anything. He’s been responsible with it–hasn’t racked up major text charges or lost it–so I think he deserves something better. With all his sports stuff, he needs to get in touch with us for rides, etc. And the time for pickup is never the same from day to day.
    Geeky Girl (10) has friends with cellphones, and she wants one, but we’ve told her that Geeky Boy didn’t have one till high school and that she will probably be the same. That may change if she ends up involved in school activities, but for now, I think we’re holding off for a couple of years.


  20. I was just having a look at Apple’s guidelines for replacing the battery on the iphone. You have to back up your data, mail it in, pay $85.95 (if you are out of warranty) and then they send you back a wiped iphone with a fresh battery.
    Likewise with the ipad, Apple sends you back a refurbished model with a fresh battery, rather than your ipad. I’m not sure if they send back a refurbished iphone during battery service, but the wiped-data and 3-day turn-around points in that direction.


  21. Big storm in NJ last night. Lost cable and Internet service. My iPhone is making me very happy right now. It’s too hard to write posts or purge spam though. Sorry, guys, but we’re shut down unt further notice.


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