Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Teenagers And Cell Phones

Today I had a revelation.

As the parent of a 13 and 15 yo, I am just beginning my journey through these years of raising teens. And so, I am coming to these revelations slowly, with much more to learn. In a way, raising teens is like starting all over again as a parent. The rules change and the stakes get higher. The pressure mounts as you know there is no time to waste-- that tomorrow (the thing you have a lot of with little ones) is slipping out of reach at a rapid pace.

And so, back to my revelation. I talked to a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) this morning. She vented to me for a bit about discovering some of the uncouth texts boys have left on both her daughters' cell phone. And what she did about this discovery. She and her daughters had a pretty tough conversation with dad present. Some boundaries were laid out that before had not existed because she thought that she could trust her daughters' judgment. She wanted to believe her daughters had more self respect than to let a boy talk to them the way these boys did. And yet, because of peer pressure or what they perceive as "normal," they let it go. And reduced their standards in the process.

I thought about this conversation a lot after we hung up. My friend reminded me that "random text checks" are a good idea, even with a kid who appears to be living a nice, obedient life. Just saying to the kid, "Hey, let me see your phone" on the spot, and then scrolling through their last texts is a good idea. You might be surprised what you learn about their secret lives.

Just a few minutes ago, our house phone rang. It was a friend of my son's-- a kid named Ryan who I don't know at all. But he clearly knew my son and wanted to find him. As I hung up I thought about how odd it was for my son to have friends I don't know-- and how dangerous it is. Because that is why God gave teens parents-- to help them make moral decisions, to offer wise counsel and to instill boundaries in their lives. And yet, cell phones make it entirely possible to have a child who has a whole network of friends and plans we are not privy to. This bothered me.

My son is currently without a cell phone due to some disrespectful behavior he has been having. (For an example of how pleasant he can be to live with, check out his face in the photo of all the kids before church on my husband's blog.) We took it away and told him we would no longer be paying for this service that is, quite frankly, a luxury. We told him that we would buy him a prepaid cell phone with the first couple of minutes and he would be buying the rest after that.

And I know the argument that cell phones are for safety and it's nice to be able to get kids on the phone wherever they are, etc. But I have to say they are also dangerous. Because a cell phone gives a teenager the opportunity to live a life that is wholly separate from their parents. Maybe I sound old when I say this, but when I was growing up, all my calls came though my home. My mom, then, was privy to who was calling, what plans were being made, and what I was up to-- whether I liked it or not. She was in my business, and I needed her to be. I wasn't ready for the complete and total freedom to give my number out to just anyone. I had to really think about it-- because I knew that she would ask me, "Who was that? How do you know him? Why is he calling?" and all those other mom-type questions.

But cell phones cut out all that pesky parenting stuff. They make it possible for illicit texts to pass between them-- alluding to things that they have no business dabbling in. They make it possible for plans to get made away from a parent's earshot. They take parents out of the equation-- which is exactly what teens think they want. They foster that illusion of having their own life-- complete with their own phone number.

And why have we as the majority of parents allowed this? I will raise my hand and be the first one to admit that it was not because I was concerned about their safety or because I needed to get ahold of them when they are out-- there are a million other kids with cell phones they can use. Or (gasp! horrors!) they can use the phone of the place they are at. I let mine have cell phones because they bugged me like crazy until I gave in under the pressure. They used everything from whining to begging to bargaining. They used guilt: "How would you feel if something happened and I couldn't call you?" They used manipulation: "All the other kids have them and you are making me look bad to my friends." And in the end, I caved. Not because I really put a lot of thought into it. But because, plain and simple, I am a sheep. And sheep do whatever the rest of the flock is doing. If the rest of the flock walks over the side of a cliff, the sheep will get in line and march right over the side with them. That is why the sheep need a shepherd. And my Shepherd has been whispering to me today to stop the madness. To stop blindly following and be set apart-- and to raise kids who are set apart in the process.

Parenting teens today is hard. And this is just one of the reasons why. Today I realized that our position on cell phones is "weird" by our kids and the rest of the world's standards. But that is okay. If it means helping our kids emerge from the teen years holy and healthy, I am willing to be weird. May God give us the strength to remain steadfast in the many years we have ahead of us. Because being weird isn't just weird-- it's exhausting. It's easier to just pretend we don't see and hope for the best. Tragically, that's what too many parents are doing. If it weren't for God getting my attention on some issues, I would most definitely be one of them.
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Maggie - Mom of Six said...

If it makes you feel any better, I am not a popular mom where cell phones are concerned. They do not get one until they are 16 AND driving. So far, only one child has a cell phone and he is now 19. Texting was only added after a year and then it was a minimal amount. This was more for my convenience than his. If I needed to remind him of an appt, I could send him a text. My 14yo knows that there are enough people around with phones that he can call me if he needs to. I have to know where he is so I can get in touch with him if I need to. When he goes somewhere with a friend, I am sure to get the parents' number as well as the child's. They also do not appreciate the fact that when their friends call, they do not get to lock themselves in the bedroom and talk. They have to talk in the kitchen or dining room. My parents "got" to listen in on my conversations and I do the same thing with mine. You are right in knowing that they need us to be in their business whether they want us to be or not. Just my thoughts.

Kristen said...

I happened upon your blog while visiting another! :)

What a wonderful post... I am sending this along to all my friends w/ kids. I have not been able to have children, so sometimes I think it's easier for me to see outside the box. (sometimes) I also have nieces who I am very close to, and they share a lot w/ me. I know the goings on of even the good kids. I have always told them - what they tell me is in confidence unless I feel they are in danger etc - then I go to mom and dad! ;)

I heard a program last year on Moody Bible Radio regarding computers and the internet. It hit me when the commentator spoke of the days when we were younger, had a handful of friends, our parents knew our friends as well as the parents of our friends. With the internet network - kids these days have hundreds of "friends" .
I commend you dear sister for standing up for what is right, true and safe for you children!

Bless you for speaking out!

KrisinTN said...

I have also been victim of the teenage cell phone problem. I have 2 teenagers, my son is 16, my daughter is 15. Honestly, my daughter very rarely uses her phone. She doesn't have a lot of friends outside of family. She is a very private person, and most often calls me, my sister, or my mom. My son, on the other hand, is everyone's friend. His phone is always in his hand. If he is not talking on it then he is texting. I haven't gotten to the point of completely taking it away but I am beginning to feel as if it will be necessary. The only thing is I really want him to have access to a phone in case he has an accident while driving. What to do? I wish I had as much courage as you do.

Bonita said...

Great thoughts as my daughter has been begging for a cell phone for her birthday next month. The kids actually have one cell phone between them, but it's old as the hills and only for use in emergencies and such. They are too embarrassed to even show it to anyone because it's really that old. You've given us more to think about before we make our decision on her request.

Org Junkie said...

My kids aren't of this age yet but your post has certainly given me a lot to think about. Your viewpoint is so refreshing! Thank you.


Laura said...

My oldest does have a phone, but only because we were upgraded and let her have the old one. We don't have texting though. The problem is people still text her - but I am checking it all the time. My motto is trust no one. :-)Hee hee! J/K - sort of. It's just I am nosy and want to know what is going on - Too many parents aren't nosy enough! Great post.

Kelly said...

Our 11 year old granddaughter came over to spend the night New Years Eve and brought her cell phone and was texting her mom (or that's what she said, it could have been friends, we didn't know!) most of the evening while we were watching movies, eating dinner, etc...I finally asked her to turn it off and put it away just so we could visit without the distraction of was new to her, but I found it to be really annoying. I guess I'm old school but we all got along fine back in the day in the 70's w/o cell phones and prayers to you all with teens and pre-teens, it's a tough world out there for them for sure!

Marla Taviano said...

Nice to meet you too, Marybeth! Oooh, I'd love to read your book! Let me know if you want to do a book swap.

Can't wait to check out all these P31 blogs. See you in June!!

Jenni said...

None of my kids have cell phones, but your point applies to SO many areas of parenting! Thank you for giving me much to think about...I am also guilty of taking the path of least resistance, far too often.

Brumbemom said...

I just happened upon your blog for the first time and I will definitely be back. Great post and definitely a subject that needs to be addressed. I agree, sometimes we allow things just to avoid an arguement. That is so not good parenting. I have learned that my kids tend to appreciate having some boundaries.I think it gives them a sense of security.
A side note, your family picture is beautiful.

Patty said...

I agree kids shouldn't have cell phones. My cousin's daughter got a cell phone when she became a freshman in h.s. Shortly after, I received a very disturbing threat - very specific on my cell phone. When we tracked it down, it was my cousin's daughters cell phone. They brushed it off as kids being kids and being bored, but my husband and I thought it was very serious. She's a great kids, but never saw the consequences of her actions. I work at a criminal law firm and the threat was specific enough we were concerned. So in short, my thoughts - kids shouldn't have cell phones, and if they do, there are plenty of options to limit use for those I.C.E. situations.

Sadly in today's society, even great kids, should be watched - not suffocated, but guided. And I believe not only do parents have to think about cell phones, but also the internet - IM's, facebook, blogs, myspace, etc. It's not a matter of being paranoid, it's just being careful and wise.

There's a balance in there somewhere. ;-) And if a kid does get these privileges, I don't think there's anything wrong with being aware.

Great post!

Jennifer, Snapshot said...

Great discussion.

My daughter is a 4th grader and already asking about cell phones. I do see the value in an older child having one, but I myself didn't even get one until about 5 or 6 years ago!! Yes, there was always a phone around I could use if there was an emergency.

Michelle said...

Wonderful post! I have a pre-schooler, so we are a long way from cellphones. I agree with Patty's comment. I think parents have to monitor and provide guidance for cellphone and internet use. I formerly worked in law enforcement and have a weekly column (Safety Saturdays) on my blog about keeping kids safe online and offline. Check out my last post, and click on the Safety Saturdays label in the left column to see all the tips. I hope you find the information informative and useful.

Amy L Brooke said...

I like your position on cell phones! :-) I actually hate the way even adults use them. Unless I'm expecting an important call back, I rarely answer when I am with someone.

At Christmas, I was at a friend's house. We were playing a card came. Her 19-year-old got a call and it was his turn to play. He managed it but stayed on the line and then it came around to him again. He decided his conversation (with all of us listening) was more important. Sigh. I lost it and grabbed a card out of his hand and played for him!

Cell phones are good for connecting but not at the expense of connecting with those before your eyes!

Cheri said...

My daughter is almost 12, so I am beginning to feel the pain of teenagerhood. Ummmm, not likin' it!

I don't care for cell phones either. I have one myself but everyone who knows me knows it's pointless to call it.

Not sure yet what my position will be when she gets older. Glad I read your post so I can start thinking about it.

Melissa said...


I am sending this post to every mom and dad of teens that I know!!!!! You have empowered me!

I hope your foot is feeling a little better! I so feel for you. I know how hard it is.

Thanks for this message today.
Love you,

Kelley at Aroma of Joy said...

Hi Marybeth,
This makes me crazy too: Where we live not only are teens carrying cell phones but many of my 10 yr. old's friends have them. I think some of it is laziness (or craziness) on the part of the parent and some of it is just plain spoiling a kid in giving them the latest gadget. Most of the kids around here not only have a phone but a "top of the line" phone.

Our oldest 4 kids have cell phones but they are required to pay the monthly fee and replace the phone should it get wet, or lost....(this has happened more than once).

And you are right about checking the texts for info. My 17 yr. old son got into trouble a few weeks back and tried to lie his way out of it. However, when I took his phone and read his text messages the truth was revealed. (I felt a little like a CSI investigator,lol).

UH OH. THis message is gettig way too long. Just stay strong and know that no matter what they say, not all parents are caving to the pressure of what "every one else is doing!"

ps. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll, I can't wait to meet you at the conference this summer!

Joyful said...

Hi Marybeth,
Excellent post! My almost 16 year old son has had a cell phone for a year, but thankfully, so far, he has only used it for calling home, and he has not given his cell phone number out to anyone so all his "regular" calls come to our home. We told him when we purchased it for him it was an "emergency" phone only...and we would continue to pay for the service as long as that was ALL it was used for while he had it. Another plus is the fact that he hates to talk on the phone ANY TIME so, at least for now, things are good. However, I'm not naive enough to think problems can't arise. Thanks for the warnings and advice.
Hope your foot is healing.

Honea Household said...

Amen, sister! I do not have teenagers, but I know I will be there sooner than later. I love you and your husbands ideas on parenting. I even forward your hubby's blog post about parenting to my hubby. It was very good to read.

Praying for you sister. I'm not looking forward to these kinds of things that you are dealing with.

Hope your foot is better!

MaryLu said...

My 8 year old daughter asked me the other day when she can have a cell phone. Many of her friends at school already have one. Eight years old! I could not believe it!
This has given me lots to think about, not that I was considering her request, but your post gives me grounds to deny the whole technology thing for alot longer anyway.

Boys 'R' Us said...

Thank you for this post! I agree 100% and am going to send this link to my friends with teens. I just found your blog and am really enjoying it!
Blessings, Dee

4boysmom said...

What a joy to hear other moms who want to do the right thing!

We have twin boys who are almost 13. They have asked for cell phones but to no avail. There are too many chances we'd be taking. They already have seen boys in the bathroom at school passing around a picture of a naked girl ON a boy's cell.

We also would not be able to control what is texted to them or what pictures they might recieve unwillingly. That is too risky if you ask me.

As parents, we need to be proactive and always aware of what is happening in society in order to protect our own kids.

Stand tall and fight for what is right!

Sharon said...

My ten year old came home from his private Christian school, having seen a video of a couple having sex on an older boy's cell phone - he was showing all they boys in his little brother's class.

Aparrently he downloaded it directly to his cell phone, as it was a sophisticated model.

So, unsavoury text messages are not the worst thing that can happen to your child and they don't even need a cell phone to participate.

Unsupervised conversation and texting is the thin edge of the wedge.

dutchgirl said...

We don't let our kids have cell phones until they are in college. While in high school, if they go somewhere on their own, they take mine with them in case of emergencies. My cell phone is very dull, boring and highly uncool but I don't care!