Parenting Kids With Cell Phones, Facebook and the Like

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Are your kids savvier with technology than you? Many are. Get with the program at home and be on top of their screen activities.

Think about it … Kids have accessed to everything now through computers, Facebook and the rest of it. Are you able to parent all of this?

On Cell Phones
“He asked for one and says a lot of his friends have them,” says Nashville mom Cathy McPherson, speaking of her 10-year-old’s want of a cell phone. “We will give him one in sixth grade when his after-school activities pick-up.”

Cell phones, computers, texting, Facebook, iTunes, e-mail, gaming, movies. Technology is progressing rapidly and the world is more connected now than ever before. The cutting edge technology of today that has enriched and simplified our lives has also made it more complicated and scarier to navigate as a parent. The “boogie man” of yesteryear is now being carried around in your child’s backpack.

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, youths ages 8 – 18 spend more than seven-and-a-half hours a day with electronic devices.  And that doesn’t count the combined three hours they spend talking on their cell phones and texting. Moreover, many of these kids are multitasking — surfing the Internet while listening to music.
How much time do your kids spend on their cell phones? Gaming? How do you manage technology in your home? Is it a problem? What do the experts say?

James Wellborn, a clinical psychologist who practices in Brentwood, doesn’t believe any young child needs a cell phone because they are always with an adult who can contact you. “Parents are concerned about getting in touch with them and that becomes justification,” he says. “If they need one, set the phone so the only number it can dial is yours.”   Sissy Goff, director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, advises, “Start small with your kids. Hold off as long as you can.” Goff says the age at which you get a first cell phone for a child depends on several factors. “The child’s maturity, your values and the culture you are in,” all must be considered, says Goff. Regardless, she recommends setting the ground rules up front.  Wellborn is a supporter of teen texting, but says those privileges should be suspended when infractions occur. “Adolescents must have texting because they won’t answer the phone. They don’t check their voicemail. Taking it away is delicious because it drives them crazy.”

McPherson, of Brentwood, who has three boys and a girl ranging in age from 10 to 19 with her husband, Steve, own five cell phones altogether. “They didn’t get a phone until it was convenient for us,” she says of her kids. Jenifer Perez, a Brentwood mother of two teenage boys and two younger girls with her husband, David, says her sixth grade daughter’s cell phone is always with her and she is constantly texting. But warns, “If she gets a bad grade her phone or iPod get taken away.”

The danger of driving and texting is a big concern among parents with teenagers. With their eldest two children driving, McPherson says texting and driving are off limits. “They wouldn’t have a car if we caught them texting.” However, McPherson acknowledges that it’s a difficult thing to monitor. “We talk about the dangers and consequences of it,” she adds.

“Most kids will do what you tell them to do. Have a rule before you have a problem,” warns Wellborn. “If your kid obviously has trouble ignoring a text when they are around you, they just can’t help but check and type something back; odds are very high they are texting while driving.” Setting some limits when your child can and cannot text — but in earshot of their ringing phone — will help them develop some self control, he says.

To help keep tabs on their teen drivers, Wellborn says parents can keep a random log of when their kids are driving and compare it against their monthly cell phone statement to determine if they are texting while driving. They can also ask for their teen’s cell phone immediately after they come home and check the time stamp on their texts. “Kids need to know what you will be expecting and what they will get busted for,” he says. Ground them from the car for at least a month if they are found guilty, he suggests.

Wellborn further notes that many kids are texting at 2 or 3 a.m., when you think they are sound asleep. For cell phone safety with kids, place all cell phones in a central location, like the parents’ bedroom or kitchen at night.

To further complicate the issue, many children now have cell phones or Smartphones with Internet capability. Wellborn strongly advises against this, likening it to, “Carrying the devil in their pocket.”  He says there is no need for a child to have access to the Internet on their cell phone, citing the dangers of children surfing cyberspace unchecked.


“Do not have a computer in an isolated place in the house,” cautions Wellborn.  “Do not have your kids tempted to go exploring — even if you have the filters.” He advises installing both a filter and a keystroke monitor on your computers, no matter how young your kids are, so they don’t accidentally stumble upon an inappropriate website.

Whereas filters can block objectionable content, a keystroke monitor, or key logger, is a hardware device or small program that monitors each keystroke a user types on a specific computer’s keyboard, ensuring your kids do not circumvent your filters.

Jackie Fest, a Franklin mother of one college son, a teenage daughter and preteen daughter with her husband, Brad, says her family has a centrally located computer, a laptop and an iPad. All have filters and she says, “No laptop goes behind closed doors.”


Facebook is popular for all ages, but can be potentially harmful if not managed properly. One family interviewed for this story had a negative experience with their child in middle school involving “trash talking” with another classmate. The family closed down his page. Now a ninth grader, he just recently got his Facebook page back. At some point, his parents said, “you just have to trust him.”

Goff recommends that when your children have a Facebook account you not only have their password, but that you are a “friend” as well. “You want to teach your child how to make good decisions on his own while he is still at home,” she says. “Once they get into high school, if they have proven to be trustworthy, you don’t need to check it as much.”  Says McPherson, “We have constant discussions about it. Colleges can look at what you put out there in the cyber world. We tell them anything you put in writing can be put on the front page of a newspaper. None of that information is yours. Use that as a guide.”


Video games carry ratings that help parents determine what is and what is not appropriate for their children. However Wellborn says, “I suggest you not pay attention to the ratings but game by game.” He adds, “The problem games are the first person shooter, where the character you are pretending to be operates the weapon and is killing other people.” He cites examples like Halo, Call of Duty and Gears of War. “The hot-headed kid who has a temper should not be playing these games on a regular basis.”

Wellborn says games involving sports, construction, vehicle operation and exercise are more benign and have a more cognitive and strategic benefit.  Games like Tony Hawk, Madden, Sim City and Wii Sports, for example.

“We have no gaming during the week unless it’s a special occasion, “says McPherson. “We used to allow it after homework, but then they’d fly through their homework.”

McPherson has a five year age spread between her third and fourth child, which can be challenging when it comes to monitoring the appropriateness of video games. “We were really strict with the first few, and then the fourth one came along …” she says with a wry grin. McPherson says her 10-year-old son is allowed to play some “M” games — if the volume is turned off.

Perez does not allow gaming on school nights either and has a two hour time limit. “Friday at 3 p.m., the battle begins as to who gets on first, “she says. “They take turns.”

Goff says it’s important to limit kids’ video game time, and borrows a quote from her colleague, counselor David Thomas, saying, “Boys shouldn’t spend more time in the virtual world than they do in the real world.”

The Bottom Line

“Every generation has its nemesis,” says Fest, who believes overall, technology is a positive tool.  “A lot of managing technology at home has to do with parents setting the example.”  According to the experts, it also takes communication, knowledge, consistency and vigilance. You may want to call upon your inner “Columbo,” too.

Katie Hamm is a local writer and mother.

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