By Dr. Paul Randolph
Many parents today get their teens a cell phone to help them keep in touch with Mom and Dad. The idea is that if son or daughter gets into trouble, or needs something, they have a phone at their fingertips. While this maybe true, I would recommend that parents think long and hard before giving a teen their own cell phone.
One problem I have seen is that it gives parents and teens a false sense of security. You think you are closer to your child than you really are. Just because they have a phone doesn’t mean they can’t get into trouble or be where they are not supposed to be. Being able to call your teen is not the same as being there. And teens themselves can be more prone to get into situations they might have avoided otherwise.
A second problem is an inability to screen your child’s calls and messages. This can be a problem if your child is getting involved with the wrong crowd. It can also be a problem if your child is not sexually active but is getting propositioned by teens that are. Some of the same teens that would not call your house for fear of having you answer the phone are now able to reach your teen directly. If they are not willing to call your home, why should they contact your teen directly? There are also situations where teens have been propositioned by adult sexual predators who obtain a teen’s phone number.
Third, with direct access to a phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, many teens find it much easier to spend significantly more time on the phone. Having to use the house phone often limits the amount of time your teen can spend on the phone simply because everyone in the family needs access to it. A teen with a cell phone in their room can spend larger blocks of time using it when you think they are doing homework or other things. The only limiting factor to the teen is the cost of the bill at the end of the month. In my counseling experience, however, many teens fail to take this into consideration and are often not held accountable by either parent.
So what is a parent to do when your teen is going to be out and you want them to have the ability to call you or you get in touch with them more quickly? My recommendation is to get on a family phone plan where you and your spouse each have a phone. If your teen is going out and you would like them to have a cell phone, give them one of yours. Now they can call you when needed, but they don’t have their own phone. This is what we do in our home and it works very well. Yes, from time to time they ask for a phone of their own (“all my other friends have them!”), but that doesn’t mean we have to change our plan.
Ultimately, it is up to parents to keep their teens accountable for where they are and what they are doing. Even more fundamental than the question of cell phones is your relationship with your teen and the moral and spiritual grounding you are providing. If their moral compass is properly oriented, then how they use a cell phone will not only be regulated by Mom and Dad, but by their own conscience.