Texting & Mobile Phones: Parental Supervision Required

by Dr. Charles Sophy

Filed Under: Text Etiquette

  • M obile phones grant our children tremendous freedom and the opportunity of free expression.

  • They have virtually no limitations as far as who they can connect with and when they are connecting with them. In terms of social development and community access, the capacity of "instant communication" is simply unprecedented.

    On one hand, this ability to connect is extremely beneficial for our children, creating almost endless opportunities for personal interaction and communication flow. On the other hand, easy access to the technological world allowed by mobile phones also presents several obvious hazards. Dangers include texting and communicating with unknown and inappropriate people, phone use during improper times, and sending mean and hurtful messages about and to others.

  • Considering the many elements at play here, it is imperative that parents exercise supervision when it comes to their children’s mobile phone usage.

  • Establish Rules Early

    Parents should establish rules for their children's mobile phone use as soon as they hand them the phone for the first time. When boundaries are set and kept consistent as our children enter the world of texting and mobile phone use, the rules are clear and enforcing safe and positive behavior becomes less of a struggle. It is much easier to stick to parameters initially set than it is to correct acquired bad habits due to ambiguous guidelines.

    If your child has had a mobile phone of their own for some time, but the ground rules were not set when from the beginning, it is still not too late to establish boundaries for appropriate behavior. You will most likely encounter some resistance because your child may argue that they didn't have to initially follow these rules, but taking control and establishing new limitations will result in a clear and distinct directive for moving forward.

    When making the rules, remember to consider the child's age. As your children get older and demonstrate more responsible behavior, you can alter some rules and you can include your child in the rule-making process so that they feel they still have some type of control. They will feel empowered by your inclusion and will value the input you allow them to have.

  • What to Supervise

    The first thing to determine is how your child is using their phone. Are they mostly texting? If so, who are they communicating with and when are they communicating with them? If your child keeps their phone with them at night, this could present many problems, including late night phone calls that cut into their sleeping hours, and the potential for messages containing inappropriate content called "sexting."

    Does your child keep their phone in their purse or pocket while they are at home? One suggestion is to keep your children's mobile phones in a central location within a common area, like the family, living room or kitchen, while they are in the house. That way, your children will find it harder to sneak away for a quick text message while they are studying or in the middle of a family conversation. It is also more difficult for them to hide who they are in contact with and about what they are conversing.

    It is crucial to establish boundaries as to when and where your children can text and make mobile calls. Here are some suggestions for places and times that should be off-limits for mobile phone usage:

  • During meals whether at home or in restaurants

  • During designated "family" time

  • In the middle of family discussions

  • In the classroom where they should be studying

  • While driving a car

  • At special events or services (cultural, religious, etc.)

  • While doing homework or studying

  • Furthermore, parents should absolutely reserve the right to review texts, e-mails, address books, and content at any given time. Discuss this with your child in advance so it is not seen as "snooping." It is also a good idea and extra safety precaution to have access to all of your child’s passwords and lock-codes.

    Another crucial ground rule to set is in regards to the nature of the content of your child's texts. Mean or nasty text messages should be prohibited from the start. Children often are not aware of the consequences of their actions, and sending a piece of gossip or a nasty text message is not only hurtful, but can have long-lasting damaging effects for the target. As the reality resounds from recent news stories, this type of teasing and torment can even result in a child taking their own life.

    Technology supervision provides multiple benefits. First, it establishes your right to audit your child's behavior as well as enforce your authority in your parental supervision. Second, a parent's ability to check their child's texts, calls, and emails, will limit the desire to engage in inappropriate behavior (i.e., sexting, bullying over mobile phones, prank texting, etc.). Third, with access to your child's mobile phone and passwords, you can ensure a degree of safety in the case that your child is involved in any danger and you need the information stored in their phone.

    Throughout your supervision, as a parent, you must know the texting language that your child is using. It is no use to have access to their phones if you cannot understand the messages you are reading. Please visit www.LGDTXTR.com for a complete glossary of texting terms.

  • The Importance of Boundaries

    Instituting these rules will help your child develop healthy notions of respect and courtesy. Families that struggle with boundaries tend to raise children that struggle with boundaries, who tend to raise children that struggle with boundaries, and so on…

    A healthy sense of self comes from clear personal and family boundaries. Healthy rules are integral in establishing privacy, personal respect, and the sense of what we are entitled to as individuals. Everyone needs such contexts to aid in their own peace of mind, and as parents, guiding your child in that process will help ensure their success.

    Setting limits for mobile phones use can be a painful experience, but striking a balance between love and the enforcement of rules is crucial to healthy adolescent development. It is your duty as a parent to teach your child the notion that "I end here and you begin there." The values you instill in your child will forge the foundation they will return to as they navigate through their own life.

  • Mobile phone usage rules must be held in check – whether it’s texting during a meal or calling friends during study time.

  • The lessons learned through these boundaries will help your children cultivate self-restraint and respect for others.

  • Respect the Boundaries

    In addition to establishing the rules, parents also must respect their children's privacy (unless the trust is broken, in which case disciplinary action may be required).

    Many children view mobile phones as their primary social outlet and gateway to the world. If parents are too authoritarian or intrusive in how they control this channel of communication, it can be demoralizing and incapacitating to the child.

    As you navigate this complex landscape, here are some tips to help foster honest communications and healthy boundaries:

  • Know Your Own Boundaries: In order to teach you must first know the limits of your own use of mobile phones. Don't get caught in the patterns you warn you child to avoid.

  • Be Clear: Teach your child exactly what you want them to know. Do not expect your child to anticipate the boundaries.

  • Reinforce: Practice what you preach and model good behavior. Do not engage in behaviors you do not want your child to mimic. If your child is not to text during meals, nor should you.

  • Follow-Through: Remind your child of the limitations that have been set. When someone breaks the rules, there should be reasonable and logical consequences that are agreed upon ahead of time.

  • Ultimately, it is vital to teach your children as early as possible the boundaries that you want them to learn, especially in regard to mobile phone usage. They will incorporate these life lessons into how they treat others and into their character as they become respectful, responsible adults.

Filed Under: Text Etiquette


Charles Sophy

Dr. Charles SophyAs a psychiatrist specializing in Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Family Practice, Dr. Sophy currently serves as the Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

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