Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Teen angst

Mine, not his.

As my longtime readers know, my eldest son turned 13 in August. We have been having the "I want a cell phone" conversation with him for quite some time but, after much debate, discussion, and internet research, we decided to give him his own phone for his birthday. (Let it be noted that we had said NO so many times that he did not even broach the subject and was thus greatly surprised when he received it.)

We have a family cell phone that floats from kid to kid in the event that one of them is at an event where they may have the need to call us, but we decided to give him a phone of his own for a few reasons:

1) After discussing this with parents of older teens, we came to the conclusion that it may be better to give the phone to a 13 year old who (theoretically) is more likely to listen to rules of use for said phone. According to these more experience parents, a 15 or 16-year-old may reject or ignore the rules more readily. We decided to go for the "he's still putty in our hands" theory.

2) His entire peer group at church and many of his school classmates had phones already, and it had become clear to us that he was missing out on a lot of key communication about youth group and stuff simply because his friends couldn't text him. (He also did not have a Facebook page because Facebook's minimum age is 13 and we refused to let him have a page and lie about his age, and the other major form of communication for the peer group happened to be Facebook.)

3) Our extended family lives anywhere from 5 to 9 hours away from us by car, and everyone (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas and grandpa) has a cell phone. We have always emphasized that, if he was uncomfortable sharing something with us, he could go to his extended family for help or advice. Making it simple for him to do so as he navigates the rough waters of adolescence seemed like a good thing to do.

So. Once it was decided, we found an appropriate phone and changed our plan to include unlimited texting. Knowing that was the preferred method of communication, we decided to avoid limits on the text numbers and instead focus on the limits of usage we had decided on. We did NOT give him a data plan, either. I used a couple of sites (this was my favorite) and put together a phone use agreement and a Facebook use agreement (inspired by this page) and he woke up with a phone next to him on his birthday.

The agreement? No making or receiving calls or texts after 9 PM. Doing chores as required by us, keeping grades up, no inappropriate images or language, no using it to hurt people, remembering that rumors are just that -unsubstantiated and potentially damaging- and should not be shared or spread around, we have the right to check messages, the usual stuff.

He had the phone for about a month before his grades began slipping. Since this is an issue we have had FOR THE PAST 2 YEARS, we acted swiftly and decisively and took the phone away. Until the end of the quarter. It is still gone. But I can report that the grades are back up and it seems that the lack of immediate communication opportunities with his friends is giving us the hoped-for result.

Do I think our plan is right for everyone? No. I think this is as individual as any parenting decision. It (so far) is working for us and we left the agreements open so that we (or he) can open a discussion for changes and adjustments as he grows and circumstances change.

I am glad that we drew a hard line on the Facebook thing and made him wait until age 13. I am glad we have open lines of communication, and that we essentially put the control on him -- he can make good choices, do well in school, and we will continue to let him have the freedom a phone can give him. And if he chooses to neglect his school work, or to not report inappropriate activity before we discover it ourselves, he understands that, basically, he is choosing the consequences.

I have never been the parent of a 13-year-old before. It IS scary. But it is also exhilarating --he is really coming into his own as a person. His friends are cool, fun, interesting people. He is funny and smart and has witty, wry things to add to a conversation. We are giving him the tools to be a kind, caring, responsible human being, and so far he (mostly) is showing himself to be those things. He is only 13, but he is an amazing, wonderful human being, and I am relishing every step forward and every milestone, even as I wince at the unavoidable mistakes a 13-year-old makes. We are learning, together. And I think it is gonna be ok.


  1. Friends are the most important thing in the world to Jr High age kids. They just are! Not to mention being accepted. Talking on the phone is a huge part of that. I know it is hard for us to get used to since we didn't grow up with cell phones, but it is a new generation with the same social needs :)

  2. I truly wish that there was a handbook on how to raise a teenager. I think your approach will serve you well. The hardest part is being consistent.