December 2, 2009
by Carol Politi
The second known suicide resulting from Sexting – sending explicit pictures via a cell phone – happened this week in Florida. Many kids have been harmed by Sexting – something they originally thought was either funny or something that might make them more attractive turns into incessant bullying at school, reprimands by school officials, and even potentially legal trouble.
The number one reason for purchasing a first time cell phone is safety. Most parents purchase the phone as a way to ensure their child can get in touch with them in the event of an emergency, to coordinate timely and safe pick ups after events, and simply to ensure they can reach their child as they venture out more independently. However, cell phones are also tools for instant communications – tools that require careful education and that support communications methods for which not every kid is ready.
The smoothest cell phone experiences happen when parents and kids discuss the rules and responsibilities before that first cell phone gets used. Here are some tips that might help:
1. Establish a contract with your child before they use their phone. Work with your child to mutually establish guidelines for appropriate and safe use.
2. Decide proactively which services are allowed. It is possible, for example, to initially restrict or shut off picture messaging and let your child learn the power of instant communications first through text messaging. It might be helpful to review some of the news on Sexting to discuss why this might have happened and what could have been done differently.
3. Get agreement on the when the phone should be used. Decide whether it should be physically shut off during school and at night or whether a TimeManager block should be set up during these hours to prevent distractions. Should the phone be on or off during homework hours?
4. Decide what kind of periodic usage reviews should be held. Should you review and discuss usage once per week? Once per month? Will you and your child review the actual messages and pictures on the phone from time to time?
5. Finally, review how much the service costs, mutually agree on a budget for the phone, and decide who pays for what.
Putting a cell phone in a kid’s hand is the equivalent of giving them a small computer attached to a network! Safety tools are available – and one of the best tools might be talking with our kids to ensure they think through the possible impact of their decisions – especially when instant communications are involved.
How do you manage cell phone use in your home? Please comment here with your tips on safe cell phone use.