For most of us during our childhood, it was our parents who had cell phones. In the present day, most children in this area of Metropolitan DC have cell phones by the time they are in 6th grade. Texting, and other digital communications such as email and Facebook, have become standard in their social world. As much as many of us would like to avoid, or challenge, this trend, the reality is that kids who are not able to text or email often end up feeling left out and, in fact, end up missing a lot of the social communication amongst their friends. Even parents who wait until high school to get their child a cell phone are still getting their child a cell phone. Moreover, all of us eventually have a cell phone. Therefore, the goal is to work with your child on achieving a healthy relationship with technology, and this will depend on setting clear rules and expectations as well as being a good model for your child and having your own balance with your cell phone.
For clear rules, your child should know when he or she is allowed, and not allowed, to use the cell phone. Brain-imaging studies have shown that watching screens (cell phone, computer, TV) activates the brain, making sleep more difficult, so I recommend that children and teens not use cell phones and computers one hour prior to bed. Cell phones should not be kept in their room overnight (so 1 hour prior to bed until the next morning, your child’s phone should be charging in a shared area like the kitchen or living room). If your child has a Facebook account, I recommend that you have access to it (most kids will not want you to be their Friend on Facebook but you can have their log-in information and periodically look at their page with them present- so it doesn’t feel deceptive). Obviously, as your child becomes an older teen, they will need to have complete privacy just as they will when they are in college. There should be no cell phone use at meals or at other times where your family is connecting, for example, if you have game night together. Every parent needs to decide on their rules for cell phone use but the 2 main points I make with parents are: one, have very clear rules and enforce them consistently, and two, practice what you preach.
By Dr. Bonnie Zucker, Psy.D, Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist
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Read all about Dr. Bonnie: Meet Dr. Bonnie Zucker – Activity Rocket’s Expert Child Psychologist