Upon Giving our New Teen Her Own Cell Phone

Yesterday we gave our 13-year-old birthday girl her own cell phone. It was unexpectedly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done as a parent. Not only did my imagination fill with news stories of heinous things young people have done with cell phones, but I realized how many ways cell phone usage – and texting in particular – can be potentially problematic. While we trust our daughter implicitly, it’s a whole new world she’s entering, and we don’t want her entering it blindly.

This is the letter that we gave her along with the phone, sharing our wisdom, expectations, and guidelines for cell phone usage:

To our darling daughter,

Congratulations! The day you’ve been waiting for (and expertly pestering us for) has finally arrived. You are now the proud owner of your own cell phone. We offer you this privilege because you’ve shown us that you are responsible and mature enough to handle it. We’re so proud of the young lady you’re becoming. 
That being said, there are some things you need to be aware of when it comes to cell phone usage. This is a whole new world to navigate, and it’s actually much more complex than you probably think. Therefore, we want to share with you some rules and guidelines for your new phone. These are not meant to control you, but to keep you safe, secure, and smart in the way you use your phone.
Part of the reason you wanted a cell phone was so that you’d feel more secure when you’re not with us. That’s true, and part of why we got you one. We love that you’ll always be able to reach us when you need us.

However, there are two sides to having a cell phone. Though your cell phone can help you feel safe, it’s actually a bit like a vicious watchdog. If you aren’t aware and vigilant, it can hurt you, badly. Many people have had their lives ruined by things said, shared, and viewed on their cell phones. Therefore, for your physical and emotional safety, and the physical and emotional safety of others, please read—and re-read—these guidelines, and strive to embed them into your conscience:

1)  Never text anything you wouldn’t say in person. The nature of texting makes it easier to let your guard down, and it’s easy to say things you wouldn’t say in person. Resist the temptation. If you couldn’t or wouldn’t look the person in the eye and say it, don’t text it. This guideline covers everything from frustration to flirtation. If you’re too nervous to say something in real life, it’s not appropriate to say in a text.

2)  Never share or forward other people’s texts. If someone wants to tell someone something, let them do it themselves. It’s not your place to share what others have written, and you can open a whole can of ugly friendship worms that way.

3)  Never trust other people not to share or forward your texts. Other people will not abide by the same rules and guidelines as you, and your friends will sometimes do stupid things. Don’t expect anything you text to stay private. If you don’t want it shared, don’t text it.

4)  Never let a friend text for you. That’s a very quick way to embarrass or humiliate yourself.

5) Never take a picture you wouldn’t show your mother. At some point, you will encounter people who think it’s okay/cool/sexy to take photos of themselves in inappropriate positions or clothing, or without clothing at all. It’s not okay. Ever.

6) Never share a picture you wouldn’t show your mother. If you happen to see one of these kinds of photos, under no circumstances should you share it with anyone else.

7) If you are sent a text or picture you wouldn’t show your mother, show your mother. If someone sends you something questionable, please tell us. Kids and teens can get themselves into very dangerous situations with inappropriate photos. It’s important for us to know if it happens, so we can help keep them safe.
8) You still have some time before this applies to you, but it can’t be said too many times: DO NOT TEXT WHILE DRIVING, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. It can kill you and you can kill other people. Nothing is that important. We will revisit this rule many times, in more detail, as you get ready to drive. But this rule will never change. Lodge it in your brain.

9) Never give your phone number to a stranger or put it on a social media site, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Your phone number is for your friends and family only, and it should only be given to them directly. While most people are good and decent, there are some creepy people out there. Keep private information private. That goes for your friend’s phone numbers, too.

10) If someone you don’t know texts or calls you, tell us. Don’t answer or respond if you don’t recognize the number. Again, there are a few creepy people out there, as well as people who try to scam unsuspecting people out of money. Don’t panic if this happens, but do let us know.

Those are the cell phone guidelines for your personal safety. Now please appease your protective parents and read them one more time before moving on.

<<<<<I’m dead serious. Re-read them now. You can come right back here when you’re done. >>>>>

In addition to those guidelines, there are also some rules of etiquette and shards of wisdom we ask you to observe while using your cellphone. Again, your friends will not always abide by the same etiquette (cue the “If your friends jumped off a cliff . . .” lecture), but someday you’ll thank us for these:

11) When you are eating a meal or otherwise hanging out with other people, the phone goes away. Be with the people you’re with. If you desperately feel the need to use your phone, excuse yourself to the bathroom and be quick about it. Put the phone away before you return.

12) Don’t make kids who don’t have a phone feel left out, or uncool, or less-than, just because you have a phone now. Not that we think you’d do this on purpose, but it’s easy to feel part of “the club” when you’re one with a phone. Remember how annoying it was when friends with phones all pulled them out when you didn’t have one? Don’t be that way. The phone is a utility. It’s not a status symbol. Be aware of how other kids might feel, and keep the phone put away when you’re with friends unless you actually need to use it.  

13) Avoid “text speak” as much as possible. Yes, it takes longer to type a whole word, but you have an English teacher for a mother, and she’s never going to be okay with using “2” for “to.” It’s hard enough to figure out if people are being sarcastic or silly or serious in a text message. People will have an easier time understanding your meaning and “hearing” your “voice” if you write clearly. Full sentences aren’t necessary, but full words are. Sorry, kiddo.

14) Do not have serious conversations via text. Texting is for making plans, asking quick questions, and sharing little funny things that happened to you. Save heavy topics for face-to-face conversations, or at least a phone call.Texting is not the place to pour out your heart or solve a friendship problem.

15) Do not have inane conversations via text. Texting is for making plans, asking quick questions, and sharing little funny things that happened to you. It is not for a conversation that consists of “Yo. Yo. What’s up? Nothin.You? Nothin. LOL. LOL. I’m bored. Me, too. LOL. LOL.” Only text if you actually have something to say or ask. Inane text conversations are not only a waste of time (and cell minutes), but they create a feeling of connection that’s not really there. Throwing meaningless words at each other is not communication.

16) Don’t let texting become a dominant means of communication. Make sure you make time for face-to-face conversations with your friends and family. Call them using that new phone of yours. Write real letters. E-mail is fine, too.
Texting is convenient, and has its place, but it is the least personal form of communication. It’s very hard to read people’s “voices” in texts, unless you have had years-long, face-to-face relationships with them. And even then, there can be misunderstandings. Use texting to make plans and ask quick questions. Generally speaking, everything else is better done with other forms of communication.

And now for the final house rules. These will not be the same rules your friends have. We’re not your friends’ parents. If you feel any of these are unfair, feel free to consult us. They will change as you get older and we see how this whole new world unfolds for you.  But for now, these are the rules in our house for kids with cell phones:

17) We will have full access to your phone, including your text conversations, at all times. The purpose of this rule is to keep you safe.

18) You will give us your phone at 9:00pm, and we will give it back to you after your schoolwork is done the next day. On weekends, we will give it to you after any chores or responsibilities are fulfilled. The purpose of this rule is to keep your phone from being too much of a distraction during times when you shouldn’t be distracted. We grown-ups even have a hard time not being distracted by our phones, and having these limits from the get-go will hopefully help you develop reasonable habits.  

19) Everyone loses things sometimes, but being “responsible and mature” also means that you will be financially responsible for replacing the phone if you lose it  

20) If we feel that you are not following the rules and guidelines outlined here, we will discuss it with you and determine an appropriate way to handle it. But keep in mind: Having a phone is a privilege, not a right. We are happy for you to have this privilege, but we will not hesitate to yank it if we feel it’s being abused.

We love you and trust you to enjoy your newfound freedom within these guidelines. Be wise, be safe, and be courteous. And give us a call sometimes just because. We’ll do the same for you.

Mom and Dad

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 8

  1. I’m not sure it should be the TSA’s call. If there is not safety hazard, then it should probably be the airlines’ choice.

    I’d be curious to see how many of those against cellphones in-flight were more concerned about privacy/comfort and how many were concerned about safety.

  2. Thanks for sharing the lovely post. In my opinion cell phones are a very effective way to keep yourself protected.It depends on the use, that how you use it. Instead of cell phones, personal alarms are also a fruitful option.

  3. Daughter of mine, you make a father so very very proud. Thank you for being you. And that incredible man you are married to, splash some of that on him too. Let the teen phase begin.

  4. Thanks Justin! I copied and pasted the letter from Word, which I think really messed up the formatting on certain browsers. I think I got it all fixed now. And learned my lesson not to paste from Word. 🙂

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