Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rules for Teens & Cell Phones

There are good reasons for giving your teen a cell phone. I can think of two:

  • their safety and your peace of mind;
  • your convenience.

Latchkey kids, kids whose families have given up on land lines, kids involved in sports and extracurricular activities who need rides at unpredictable times, and kids forced to walk uphill, three miles, in snow, ice, and heavy traffic through a seedy red light district at midnight - yeah, they need a cell phone.

Let's not confuse "need" and "want." That's almost as bad as losing sight of the difference between "tool" and "status symbol." I don't need to pay $20 a month for my child to have a status symbol that's going to cost me another $300 the first time it's dropped in the toilet. My daughter washed hers - on hot, regular cycle, with jeans. Kudos to LG - it survived. But not one of her cell phones made it to the two-year, free upgrade mark.

So here's the deal - far be it from me to tell anyone else how to raise their children, or what rules of the road they ought to lay down before handing over the high tech toys. I'm just going to throw these proposed "rules" out there with the caveat that I wish I'd thought them up years ago, before switching over to "shared rollover minutes" with my teenaged daughter. She pays her own cell phone bill these days, and I laugh when I hear her say things like, "Mom! Slow down. I'm glad you've learned how to send text messages, but they're not on my plan..."

With her off the plan, I can afford unlimited MMS. She can't. Revenge is sweet.


Do not waste your callers' time with inane, long, loud, rude voice messages or ten minute punk rock songs. "Hi, this is Ariella Bombast. Please leave a message at the tone and I'll call you back as soon as my mom lets me," said in a pleasant, cheerful, clear, and upbeat tone of voice would be perfect.

Check your voice mail regularly and respond to it - at least if it's from your mom or dad.

CLEAN your voice mail box frequently to ensure that mom and dad are able to leave a message.

Screen your calls, by all means, but you'd better answer when it's mom or dad - preferably on the first ring - unless it's during school hours. If your phone is confiscated during school hours, you will have to write a letter of apology to your teacher, the principal, and your mother in order to get it back - unless your school was in lock-down and you were in fear for your life.

I can hear you roll your eyes over the phone. And yes, I do have eyes in the back of my head.

You can think what you like, but I do not want to see it on your face nor hear it in your tone of voice. You may flounce, pout, make faces, and roll your eyes all you like - in your room. Having a crappy attitude is normal at your age; inflicting it on others is just rude and makes you look asinine. Trust me, you'll be embarrassed about it later. I'm just helping you to save face (before someone says "enough is enough and breaks your cute little nose").

The phone is MINE from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. MINE.

If you miss curfew, or if I cannot find you when I need you, and you don't answer the phone, and it turns out you're NOT lying dead in a ditch somewhere? Your A$$ is mine from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, and you will not have a cell phone. (Parents take note: A home alarm with sensors on every window works both ways - they prevent break ins AND break outs.)

"My battery died!" is not an excuse unless your battery fails and needs to be replaced. Did you know that cell phone techs can easily tell if you dropped your phone or battery in water? There's a little sensor there - you cannot lie about these things. You are responsible for ensuring that your phone battery is fully charged and stays that way when you're outside the home.

If you drop or misuse your phone, it may be replaced at my option - depending on your behavior and attitude at the time. You will be required to reimburse me for it, including the cost of phone insurance on the new phone. If you do not have money in savings or an allowance that I can garnish, you will be doing manual labor - yardwork, laundry, scrubbing toilets, whatever I ask - cheerfully. Or see "the phone is MINE" (above) but change "10 PM to 6 AM" to "24/7."

Think I'm bluffing? Try me. I love you, and don't want to be the death of your social life, so your phone is cooler than mine. Just give me half an excuse to switch SIM cards...


  1. This is super. I didn't have a cell phone until I was 21, and only because I moved around a lot in college, and my father, who had been paying my sister's bloated cell bill for 1-2 years prior, wanted a static number to call and check up (read: gripe at me though I didnt live at home at all). I had a pager I bought after my first job, since I worked until 12am while still in high school, just in case something happened. It was usually a friend, group project people, or my parents, letting me know they would be out until 2am again, and to make sure I found my own dinner.
    I always tried to have 25 (later 50) cents in my pocket and if I so much as went next door, I made sure my parents knew.
    I spent my high school in the burbs, where there was no store to walk to, the school bus ran, and your friends could be found on a bicycle or short car trip. Kids these days (hah) - when I was in high school (ten years ago) - if you couldn't get a hold of your parents, you didn't do whatever it was for which you had to contact your parents.
    I also charge the parents a bit more with responsibility. Don't get lazy and non-vigilant about your kids' safety and social lives because they have that phone. You know football practice ends around X time, you should know your kid has a project almost due and will probably be staying after school.
    Though the cell phone's essence is to increase communication, some preventative communication can not only (pipe dream) bring a parent and their kid closer, but could prevent that surprise $300 phone bill.

    "and no, you can't have a texting plan, missy. you're lucky I dont just make this phone for dialing 911"

  2. I didn't have a cell phone until I was 33; I got it specifically so that I could call 911 if I went into labor on the Beltway. I did not want to be trapped in traffic, giving birth to my son! LOL!

    Recent blog post: To My Dad, on Father’s Day

  3. Great comments.....Keep up the work....



  4. any suggestions for cell phone rules for a 16 yr old? what do you do when texting is out of control? i take the phone from 10pm to 7am.

  5. That's an excellent idea. Not only to keep the bills reasonable, but to help your teen get some much needed sleep. I'd lock up the landlines, as well - and put a power-on password on the TV and the PCs, if necessary! Not to be mean - but all these gadgets can make us forget that humans aren't designed to be wired in 24/7. It's too addictive. We need sleep.


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