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Tweens and Cell Phones: Talk About Out-of-Control

The other day I’m in the neighborhood bakery—just looking, of course—and I notice several leftover Valentine’s Day cookies marked half price. The heart shaped treats are decorated “Be Mine” and “Cutie” in pink and white icing, but one stands out from all the others. This rejected cookie has red icing drizzled with the words “Text Me.” Seems innocent enough, but I’m actually sad about the reflection this rejected cookie has on our society. Are today’s teen falling apart just like the stale cookie next to the cherry stolen? Disheartened, I leave the pastry shop with a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a piece of glazed donut from the sample plate.

Cell phones (and donuts). We can’t live with them; we can’t live without them, and our tweens and teens are no exception. According to a study titled, “Teenagers: A Generation Unplugged,” four out of five teens—that’s 17 million—carry a wireless device, which is a 40 percent increase since 2004.

The problem is that every youngster, as early as elementary school, feels entitled to a cell phone nowadays. Raising kids is difficult enough without having to worry about the overuse and abuse of cell phones, not to mention the electromagnetic radiation they emit.

Granted cell phones come in handy for safety reasons, such as when my daughter hangs out at the mall with friends. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Are they responsible and mature enough to use the device in a safe way?

When my daughter Sari turned 12, all she wanted for her birthday was a cell phone. And a new pair of Uggs, but that’s beside the point.
Sari: “All my friends have a phone, so why can’t I?”
Me: “If your friends jump off a cliff does that mean you’ll jump too?”
Sari: “Huh?”

That argument seemed to work better when my own parents used it on me, then again so did “Eat everything one your plate. Children are starving in China.”

So my husband Scott and I cave in, and we make a deal with her. We compose a contract that spells out the rules and consequences for using a cell phone. If the written agreement is broken, she loses her cell phone for a certain amount of time. By the way, these types of contracts, which apply to driving a car as well, can be easily downloaded from the Internet, but that’s our little secret. Tell your child you came up with the idea yourself. Here’s an example:

Cell Phone Contract Between Parent and Tween
I know that having a cell phone is a privilege. I respect that my parents love me and want to keep me safe. My parents respect that I’m becoming a young adult and want the privilege of having a cell phone. With that in mind, we agree:

I will not go over the number of minutes, text message, etc. (unless our plan is unlimited—woo hoo!) or consequently I’m grounded for a week, and I have to wear whatever outfits to school my mom picks out.

I know that I’m required to contribute to the cost of my cell phone. My contribution is the amount of dollar bills that I negligently leave in my jean pockets, and my mom finds later in the washing machine.

My cell phone must be turned off at bedtime or else I will make everyone in the house really mad when they awake at 6 a.m. to the ringtone of Lada Gaga’s “Poker Face.”

I agree that if I’m unable to keep up with my responsibilities, such as feed the dog, empty waste baskets, and turn in my homework on time, the use of my cell phone can be taken away from me, and I’ll be forced to do laundry, make dinner, vacuum the steps, clean toilets, and run errands with my mom on weekends.

I will not use my cell phone to take pictures of nudity, violence or other inappropriate activities that will wind up on Facebook and ruin my reputation and any chance I have of getting into the National Honor Society or a decent college.

I will not use my cell phone to call anyone for malicious purposes, such as bullying, pranking, or ordering Domino’s pizza.

I will not use my cell phone while driving, especially when I don’t have my driver’s license yet.

I will limit the amount of people who have my cell phone number to less than the quantity of my Facebook friends.

I will limit the amount of time I’m on the phone to six hours a day, which means I need to talk and text fast. I will not use my phone while I’m sleeping and dreaming about phone accessories.

I will turn off my phone during school hours or eat lunch in the principal’s office for the rest of school year.

I will practice proper cell phone etiquette, such as turn the phone to vibrate during movies and high holiday services, not bring my cell phone to the family dinner table, and not text my friends when they are sitting next to me on the couch.

I understand that I’m responsible for knowing where my phone is, unlike my mom who loses her phone and car keys at least three times a day.

Signed ______________________________ (Tween)

Signed ______________________________ (Parents)

Date ______________________________