As I talk with parents “just ahead of me” and learn from my own experiences with a teenager, I often hear the words: “I wish I would have waited.” Many parents wish they would have waited a little longer to pass off a cell phone or a personal device to their child. How can you avoid having those same regrets?
Today I’m sharing five steps to help you never have to say, “I wish I would have waited.”
Listen to your child. I have learned that when your child starts asking for a cell phone, it’s worth taking the time to initiate an ongoing dialogue where you, as the parent, primarily ask questions and listen. Why does your child want a cell phone? (“Because all of my friends have one!”) What is their reasoning? Does it seem valid? Are you ready for them to have a cell phone?
Make sure you give this conversation your full attention and make eye contact. Your child needs to know they’ve been heard. This initial conversation isn’t about your concerns or worries. That comes later. This conversation is mostly about letting your child talk.
Establish the game plan. After you have a good understanding of why your child wants their own phone, establish a game plan with them. Let them know that you will need a few months to do your homework. This research will include lots of thinking, conversations with other parents, and, if you are married, talking it over with your spouse.
At this point, you aren’t making any promises. Tell your child exactly how long you need to do your homework and stick to it. This will keep them from pestering you, and it will hold you accountable. This could be two months or it could be six! Six months, are you kidding me? I know. It will seem like forever to your child, and it will fly by for you.
Do your homework. During this time, make a promise to yourself—and to your kid—that you are going to do your best research. One of the key components of this research will be meaningful conversations with other parents. Find those parents who have the same values as you and who are just ahead of you in parenthood. Write down all your questions and ask them if they have twenty minutes to talk to you about cell phones and what they’ve done with their kids.
If you are the praying type, then talk to God, too. If you are not, then meditate and spend some time in solitude really thinking about this decision. Do whatever it takes for you to really listen to your gut. What are you hearing? What is your gut telling you? Don’t ask yourself if the time is right for a cell phone just once. Ask it over and over again. Keep it on the forefront of your mind. You’re going to get sick of thinking about it and of talking about! But you owe this to yourself and to your kid to be really confident in your decision. You’re getting ready to hand over the “keys,” and everyone needs to be ready.
Create a Family Screen Time Plan. If after several months you do feel the time is right to give your child a cell phone, then spend a few weeks with your family creating a “family screen time plan.” As part of this process, have several conversations here and there about what is okay and what isn’t. (Check out our Family Tech Think Tank Guide to help you get started! )
Create a Written Agreement. After you’ve created your family screen time plan and everyone feels ready, then create a written agreement between you and your spouse (the parents) and the child. This agreement should be comprehensive, yet as simple as possible. Kids should be able to easily understand the boundaries and the consequences if those boundaries are crossed.
Talk about all of this ahead of time, and post it somewhere where the whole family can see. (This is great prep for younger siblings who do not have a phone. You will have already laid the groundwork and they will understand the expectations when their time comes.) You may also want to leave some space at the bottom of this agreement for a few situations you may not have thought of—just a few. (We learned this the hard way…)
Don’t overcomplicate things or make your child feel that are being completely controlled. (Easier said than done, right?) This agreement might look different for every family. Do what works for you and for your child. You can sign this agreement if you’d like, give a handshake, or verbally agree. It’s up to you! Just make sure your child is clear on the guidelines and the consequences if they break the rules. (We’ll be sharing our agreement with you soon!)
Whew! You’ve put some real effort into this decision. Now, move forward and have confidence in the decision you’ve made. Our kids can sense our lack of confidence and indecisiveness.
If you’ve decided now is not the time for a cell phone, write those reasons down and review them, so you can explain to your child why now is not the right time. Then, set a date for when you will revisit the topic together. Give them hope that the right time will come and that you want them to have that privilege.
Maybe you aren’t 100% sure that what you are doing is exactly right. But if you’ve listened to your child, established a game plan, done your homework, created a family screen time plan, and, if the time was right, established a written agreement, you’ve given it your best effort! And our best efforts are all our children need.