Thursday, April 09, 2009

Controlling Children's Cell Phone & Media Use

I'll be honest, this post is prompted by a contest sponsored by Kajeet.com (discovered via a RAMBO Alert from TwitterMoms.com). They wanted mom bloggers to give "5 tips for managing cell phone use by your kids."
How do you keep your kids safe from bullying, inappropriate content, and other hazards, and how do you maintain a budget for the use of the phone?
And it hit me that (1) I'd like a phone for my son so that his dad would stop being so cheap about phone calls, but (2) I have no clue as to the answers because (3) we've had horrible luck with Des, who is 4 years older, and her cell phone use to the extent that we've taken it away, and that (4) we are hard-core parental controllers of the media & technology our kids use (which brings me to point 5 which is that ages ago I promised to discuss how we limit our families use of "screens" and passive entertainment).

So this is not what Kajeet really wanted, but it's what I want to say.

I don't want to kiss a phone goodbye; as a mom who lost her son in an ugly custody battle to her abuser and now lives 10 hours away from him, it would be great to give him a phone (with the wallet system Kajeet has, it would be even cooler!) so that we could talk on my dime anytime.

Saying all that is really ugly. But it's a sad reality for countless numbers of moms in similar situations -- as well as other parents of divorce with children far away. So someone has to say it.

Destiny has not shown the maturity we as parents feel warrants her own personal phone; until she matures enough to handle the responsibility of a phone, she uses our phones. This makes perfect sense to us because responsibilities are earned, so no matter how many of her peers have them.

And her peers have them.

Cell phones, multiple game "stations", iPods, unmonitored internet usage, televisions & DVD players in their rooms...

Don't get me wrong, the kids have plenty of "things" -- including their own individual record players (because they all collect vinyl!), boom boxes, radios, disc-players... That's because music isn't as "dumbing" as visual entertainment. They can listen all they want. But when it comes to "screens," we limit the number of hours a day they may sit in front of them.

"Screens" (or "idiot boxes") are TVs (the programming and electronic devices which display on their screens, including movies and PlayStation or other video games) and computers (unless they are writing or otherwise creating on it; games and "surfing" time count as passive, mindless entertainment).

We limit them to two hours a day on school days; three hours on non-school days. Yes, that includes summer vacation.

And, they are monitored. They are never on the internet without us in the room or within eyesight of the monitor. They are not allowed to watch shows or movies which we have not screened & OK'd or are not present to watch with them.

We do this because we love them.

We do this to encourage their own creativity.

We do this to encourage them to move and play.

We do this to be sure that if/when questionable material arises, we are there to answer questions, point out the inaccuracies Vs facts, quell fears & anxieties, find out what excites & interests them, have conversations with them about what they are absorbing -- and just plain turn it off, if need be.

So I guess if I were try to conform to the contest rules, I would say that the best way to really manage kids' use of cell phones is to do the same thing: limit the amount of time they actually hold it. Or to use a feature like Kajeet's TimeManager, and limit the phone's use for text, pics & calls to times when we are present to monitor them &/or times when calls are warranted ("Come pick me up, please!")
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