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