Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Don't Take My Phone Away!

Adolescents & Cell Phones

So, when I was growing up, "cell" phones weighed about 10 pounds and were hardly convenient. Cell phone sizes gradually decreased over the past 20 years to make way for pocket-sized phones. Next, texting evolved. Then, internet access from phones began. Now, just about everything, from banking to paying for a latte at the coffee shop, can be done on a cell phone, instantaneously.

Plenty of adults have found themselves in a bind because of a post, text message, email typo, or other issue that occurs via the cell phone. Should we be surprised that youngsters are increasingly getting themselves into trouble with phones too?  Children and teens have not fully developed the ability to predict possible consequences of their actions, cannot fathom their future past the current school year, and have "raging" hormones which may make them eager to interact with others in a sexual nature.

I do not think a week goes by that I do not have to have a candid discussion with my patients and their parents about expectations for responsible cell phone use. Unfortunately, I have heard too many stories of adolescents "sexting," posting explicit or compromising pictures of themselves, communicating with strangers (possibly adults posing as teens) , writing public blogs of a very personal nature, "cyber bullying," accessing age inappropriate content, and handling mature issues with their cell phone. Yes, these phones have apps, music, cameras, dictionaries, GPS devices, and may feel like a lifeline to the world. BUT, they are also very dangerous. 

I advise parents to keep in mind that cell phones are a privilege and not a survival tool. 

1) If your child will not give you the passcode or otherwise prevents you from accessing their phone, then they do not need to be able to continue using it. 

2) Implement parental controls. There are programs that you can use to block certain sites and content as well as monitor texts, calls, and activity.

3) It is totally appropriate to take away the cell phone at bedtime until morning. If they are using their phone, they aren't sleeping. 

4) Use their cell phone as an incentive for good behavior and consequence for bad behavior. It proves to be very effective.

Are you panicking yet? Some parents have a look of fear in their eyes when mean Dr. Sniff starts talking about these rules. They are anticipating a major meltdown at the suggestion of limiting their child's phone access.

Remember that you are the adult, and you have a much better understanding of what dangers exist in the world. Your child most likely does not. It is your responsibility to keep them safe. If they want to have access to their phone, they will likely be motivated to follow the rules.

Dr. Shannon Sniff, M.D., is a Board Certified General and Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist at Fort Bend Psychiatry in Missouri City, Texas.