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Cell Phones Revisited

Five years ago I wrote a newspaper column on cell phone usage by parents. Grandmothers like me were beginning to notice Stroller Moms in markets or restaurants talking nonstop on their cell phone while ignoring their child.

My pitch was that parents should curtail cell phone talk when they were with their young children. A cell phone can take a message. All your baby can do is get the message that the connection to Mommy or Daddy is busy.

I wrote, “If you mothers out there want to hear nice things about your parenting from us grandmothers, for goodness sake pay attention to your child! Little kids need their parent’s attention to know their parents love them, to learn about the world around them, and to be entertained for a while when things get boring.”

This ParenTip is about children’s use of cell phones. A recent piece on children and cell phones by Sam Grobart in the New York Times quoted Wendy Sue Swanson, a Seattle pediatrician, who said that age 11 to 13 seemed to be the average for a first cell phone.

A Pew Research Survey done in 2009 showed that most of the children who were using cell phones got them by age 13. An addendum commentary by Pew in 2010 noted that the trend is that children get cell phones at a younger age. None of the 17-year-olds in the survey got a cell phone at or before age 10 while 28% of 12-year-old children did.

First Teen, Malia, has had a cell phone since she was 12 but has stringent usage rules imposed by FLOTUS and POTUS (the Obamas). No use of cell phones (or TV or computers except for school work) on weekdays. No Facebook until age 17.

But, as Grobart points out, the big issue is what kind of phone is suitable for your child. “…it seems fairly ridiculous to equip your 11- or 12-year old with a full-fledged smart phone. Its myriad capabilities, combined with a child’s…terrible judgment is a recipe for headaches at best.”

Before you buy, look into special cell phones for children. Major carriers offer built-in parental controls, androids have apps to provide controls, and there are security apps available that block and filter internet use. A prepaid phone provides limits on usage.

But all the technology in the world does not do what parents can and must do in setting and enforcing usage rules. Take a hint from the Obamas and limit cell phone usage. Don’t permit any screen whether TV, smartphone or computer close to bedtime as this can interfere with sleep. Keep the cell charger in the kitchen, not the child’s bedroom or you will find, as my daughter did, that your teen is watching movies at midnight.

Warn your children about internet safety even if you have parental controls (your child may borrow a phone or tablet.) Teach cell phone courtesy and model courteous phone behavior for your children. Talk about reasonable usage from both the cost factor and the wise use of time. (Some teens surveyed text over 100 times a day!)

Cell phones are not the enemy. They provide us with convenience and connections to other people and the vast internet. They let us show concern for those who might worry about us if we are having a bad air day with delays. They bring us a marvelous technology, a technology that children will learn faster than those of us who are CSL (computer as second language). As parents we must find a way to provide our children with the convenience of this technology while protecting them from the dangers.

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