Back in the dark ages (say, the 1980s), people frequently left their homes, and there was absolutely no way to get in touch with them until they returned, whether 20 minutes or 20 days later.
These days, of course, it's not uncommon for people to race 20 minutes home to retrieve a forgotten cell phone. We apologize for being unreachable -- "I'm so sorry, my ringer was on 'silent'" -- and check for missed calls constantly. Is it any wonder that teens and tweens want in on the action?
So what's the right answer when your teen asks for a cell phone? Here are a few questions to ask before you make a decision.
1. Does your teen drive or frequently ride in cars driven by other teens? You certainly don't want to encourage talking or texting while driving, but if your teenager does tool around town in a car, a cell phone may be a good idea. Likewise, if he hitches rides with his friends, you may want to give him a way to get in touch with you easily. If his ride home is drunk, if something happens that makes him uncomfortable, or if the car is too full to accommodate him safely, wouldn't you rather that he call you?
2. Is your teen involved in sports, youth group, or other club activities that take him out of town regularly? Whether the travel is overnight or simply into the late hours, you may want a way to reach your child when he's out and about. A daily check-in gives you a chance to make sure everything is all right, and it's reassuring to your teen as well -- even if he'd never admit it.
3. Does your teen have a job or volunteer position where others need to reach him? Some jobs come with last minute shift changes. If your teen is already in a more responsible position, other employees may have questions for him when he's not at work. And even volunteer work can sometimes lead to a frantic phone call for extra help. If your teen is reachable, he'll be able to advance his situation more easily.
4. Are you regularly out of town or at work late? Maybe you're the one with the crazy calendar. While you're out earning a living, your teen is on his own. This is a particularly tricky situation -- you want your child to be able to reach you, but you don't want the phone to give him so much freedom that you can't control him. A cell phone can be a useful tool, but you'll need to be extra careful about the rules of use.
What's the primary reason for the phone? Why does your teen really want the phone? Is it so that he can be in touch with you? Or is it so that he can be more in the social loop? Or is it because all of their friends have one so they think they should have one? That's not necessarily a bad thing -- but you should be aware of it and acknowledge it as the reason for the phone if that's the case.
Along with the primary purpose for the phone, you should consider the rules for its use. Who pays for overages -- and what are the consequences? Will you be able to see the phone whenever you want to check text messages, call logs and other information?
Do you trust your teen? This is perhaps the most critical question to consider. Has your teen demonstrated responsibility? A cell phone can be a dangerous tool for a teen to have. Can your child handle it? Only you can decide the answer to that question -- but we're here to talk it over whenever you want.
What's your biggest cell phone concern? Let us know in the comments!
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