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Kids & Cell Phone Use

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I have been walking through my waiting room and noticing that a lot of my “younger” patients have their own cell phone. So, I have now begun to routinely ask all of my patients over the age of 8, if they have a cell phone. I must say I am surprised that some 8-9 year olds actually do!!

I’m not sure why a child in elementary school needs a cell phone. Who are they calling?  What happened to being able to either go to the office at school to make a phone call or I asking your teacher if you might use their phone to call a parent if necessary?  Is that not possible anymore?  I know that younger children are also texting on the cell phone and I am not sure how some of them can text when they are not yet fluent readers.  I digress.

After learning if a patient has a cell phone, I have also started to ask about rules for the phone. Have the parents established rules for cell phone use?  When the phone may be used, how many minutes the child has (does everyone have unlimited minutes now?), who they may call and what time is the phone “put to bed at night”.

I have always asked my patients about their bedtimes and bedtime routines, but I am now interested in when the cell phone heads to bed too and gets turned off.  I am not talking about high school juniors and seniors, I am really speaking more to the children I see in elementary, middle and early high school. The older kids are yet another story.

Many of my patients seem to have very good rules about when the phone may be used, to whom they may call (especially the younger ones) and when the cell phones are turned off. But, just like those parents who still think that having a TV in a child’s room is a rite of passage, there are those parents who do not think it is necessary to set rules for the phone. I disagree.

Children really do crave guidelines and need to have clear messages regarding the use of their cell phones. If you start off with “the rules of the phone” it lets a child understand that owning a cell phone is still a privilege, and that with that comes responsibility including when and how the phone may be used.  I do not think that a phone needs to be on once bedtime routines have started, and the phone should have a bed time too.  The easiest way to do this is by having a “family docking station” where the phones are put each night, turned off and charged. If this habit begins early on, it is easier to continue as your child gets older. Once again good habits are easier to make than trying to break bad ones.

Having a middle school child on the cell phone in their room under the covers at 11 pm at night is not an uncommon occurrence and if the phones are put up each night it makes the temptation less likely.  The glow of the phone beneath the covers is a dead giveaway, as is the call record that shows use after the stated bedtime. Take the opportunity to review your child’s cell phone log on occasion. I was stunned at the number of calls high schoolers received after 11 pm when the phones were “supposed” to be off.

Lastly, set rules about texts and let your child know that you will occasionally be reading their texts. They should be taught early on that anything they write should be fair game for a parent to read. Remind them that text messages never go away, somehow they may be retrieved from cyberspace even after deleted.  That amazes me, but we have all seen it in the news.  Discuss “sexting” too. If you don’t bring these things up they may find themselves in a situation they were ill prepared for, and make a poor decision.

Being able to call your child when you need them is nice, but maybe we are all a little too connected at too young an age.  Like many things, once you let your child have their own cell phones it may be hard to go back. But remember, it is a privilege and the rules need to be followed or the phone may be taken away.  We parents just need to follow through.

Does your child have a cell phone? At what age did they receive it and why? I would love your feedback!

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Related Posts on www.kidsdr.com

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One Response to “Kids & Cell Phone Use”

  1. Dot says:

    This is what i dislike about doctors. STOP TELLING ME HOW TO RAISE MY CHILD!!!! Rules, Rules, Rules….that’s right, tell the kids what they have to do, don’t encourage them to think and let them figure it out for themselves.

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