I caved to the pressure last Christmas and convinced my husband that it was time to get our twelve year old daughters smartphones. They were two of the few sixth graders at their school without phones. Before sixth grade they were never alone, always either with my husband or me, a sitter, or at school. I’d consistently said that they would get cell phones when we needed to be able to reach them. Now at twelve they were being dropped off for activities and were starting to stay home alone. I increasingly found myself needing to get messages to them. Clearly, it was time for them to have phones.
On Christmas morning we charged the phones and put them in gift bags under the tree. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sheer joy and excitement on my daughters’ faces when the bags began to ring. Amid the excitement we established three main ground rules.
- No phones overnight in bedrooms – at bedtime phones go into a charging station in the kitchen.
- Instagram was the only social media allowed.
- And perhaps the most important rule – nothing is private.
I told the girls that every night I was going to look though their phones, read their texts, and check their photos. In other words, expect no privacy.
Here are a few of the lessons that I’ve learned over the last year:
How to give advice that will be received:
Although my girls know that I read their phones, I make a point not to discuss most of what I read. But every once in a while I feel compelled to give advice. I’ve found the best way to give effective advice is casually and without judgment. When one of my girls posted a photo of herself and a friend with a caption about being best friends, I asked her how she thought that caption might make their other friends feel. She angrily stomped off to her room, but I noticed that a few minutes later she deleted the caption. I’ve found it’s best not to tell her what to do, but to point out to her how her posts might be perceived and make others feel.
I have a very different perspective on social media:
One night my girls each had a friend spend the night. I suggested that they not post pictures on Instagram so that other friends wouldn’t feel left out. They genuinely couldn’t understand why I’d feel that way. Everything in their world has to be photographically documented with a selfie. They are far less bothered than I am to see other friends doing something fun without me.
I have to educate and trust, not control:
I soon realized that I had to get up 30 minutes early to read every text and look at every photo on their phones. Finally the light bulb went on – I had to change my approach. Instead of trying to control their presence online (control was my illusion), my focus needed to be on educating them about their choices. We talk a lot about how once something is posted on line, it never disappears. They know that I interview job candidates at my office and that I look them all up on social media. I’ve told them how I’ve chosen not to hire people based on what I find on line. We talk about how photos and posts can project the wrong image or make us feel left out. I’ve reminded them that not every single moment needs to be documented. We’ve talked about friends who screen shot texts from one friend and share those texts with other friends and how that is an invasion of privacy.
I’ve slowly allowed them access to other social media apps. I download the app and the three of us try it out for a period of time. Once I am satisfied that it’s OK for them to use, I’ll let them add friends. That’s not to say that I am completely comfortable or happy about expanding their social media reach, but I recognize that it is all part of learning to trust and letting go. They can’t learn if I don’t let them try.
There are some positives to my girls having phones:
I love getting texts from my girls during they day. Most days I get at least a “Hi Mom” during their lunch period. On the days that neither my husband nor I can pick up, they text me when they are on the bus and when they arrive home safely. Mostly I love that they always have access to reach me, for something important, or just because.
My advice to parents wondering when the time is right for cell phones – if it would make your life easier, then it is probably time. Make sure you set ground rules that work for your family because it is a big step!