Tag Archives: cell phones

Back to School Cell Phone Guide for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

Roughly one hundred years ago when I was a teacher, cell phones in the classroom weren’t an issue. Today, a phone is as integral to a student’s life as a backpack or ballpoint pen. The average age that parents give their children a cell phone has dropped to ten or eleven years old. It isn’t a question of whether a student has a phone but what they’re doing with it in the classroom.

While it’s convenient to be able to contact our kids when we’re going to be late for pick up or practice is canceled, it’s important kids understand boundaries and what responsible cell phone use looks like; back to school is a great time to review those guidelines.

  • As parents, make the boundaries clear. If it’s your child’s first phone, help them understand what your expectations are. Remind them a phone is a privilege, not a right, and if you pay the bill, you call the shots. Determine ahead of time what the consequences will be if the phone is lost or gets broken, if they have permission to download apps and music, and what the consequences will be for misuse or disregarding the rules. Consider a Cellphone Use Contract, especially if it’s your child’s first phone.
  • Again, if it’s your child’s first phone, make sure emergency contacts are programmed in and your child knows who to call in an emergency. School violence is a tragic reality and children should know the emergency plan should they find themselves in danger traveling to or from school or while on school property.
  • Follow the school rules. Many schools allow kids to have phones in the classroom but what happens within individual classrooms varies. What’s allowable in 12th grade will likely be a far cry from what’s allowed in 5th grade. My daughter’s high school math teacher allowed kids to use their phones as calculators and another teacher allowed them to use their phones for in-class research projects. Go to the school or school district’s website and pull up the relevant phone policy to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • Remind your kids they should never text, send email, use apps or configure the phone’s GPS while they’re driving, riding their bike or skateboarding. Accidents can happen even while walking and texting, so remind them to be mindful of their surroundings anytime they’re on their phones.
  • Talk to your kids about safe use of the phone’s camera. The consequences of sending inappropriate photos and videos go far beyond simply damaging someone’s reputation and could even result in criminal charges if the offense is serious enough. Make sure your kids understand that personal privacy and respect for others is important.
  • Remind your kids that the same rules that apply to web browsing at home apply to using their phones outside the house. Remind your student that websites and content that are off-limits at home are off-limits on school property as well, whether the school expressly blocks the content or not.

Some of these rules may seem arbitrary and some may not apply to your own situation, but as parents and caregivers it’s up to us to ensure our kids understand the rules we are asking them to follow.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Distracted Driving: Time to Put Down That Phone!

By Tracey Dowdy

When I was a kid, family vacation meant driving for hours and taking the ferry to Prince Edward Island for a couple of weeks of camp. The biggest distraction for the driver was the constant
“stop touching me/stay on your side/I know I am but what are you?” bickering from the back seat and the occasional wildlife that would wander out on to the highway.

Not so today. Not that kids have miraculously stopped bickering – this isn’t a Disney movie – but with handheld devices and video screens built into the headrests, the biggest distraction is no longer coming from the backseat. Now it’s right there in the hands of the driver.

Although most of us admit distracted driving is dangerous, there’s a clear disconnect between acknowledging the problem and changing our behavior. With a staggering 74 percent of Americans admitting that they talk on the phone while driving, and the fact summer sees the highest incidence of teen accidents (7 of the 10 deadliest days for teen drivers fall between Memorial Day and Labor Day), it’s time to take a hard look at our driving habits.

Consider these statistics from DoSomething.org:

  • 10% of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 were determined to be related to distracted driving.
  • 5 seconds is the minimum amount of time that a driver takes his eyes off the road while texting. If the car is traveling at 55 mph, that’s equivalent to the length of a football field.
  • Texting makes a crash up to 23 times more likely.
  • Teens who text while driving spend 10% of the time outside their lane.
  • According to AT&T’s Teen Driver Survey, 97% of teens agree that texting while driving is dangerous, yet 43% do it anyway.
  • 19% of drivers of all ages admit to surfing the web while driving.
  • 43 states, plus D.C., prohibit all drivers from texting.
  • 40% of teens say that they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone.
  • The most recent National Occupant Protection Use Survey finds that women are more likely than men to reach for their cell phones while driving.
  • According to 77% of teens, adults tell them not to text or email while driving, yet adults do it themselves “all the time.”
  • 9 in 10 teens expect a reply to a text or email within five minutes or less, which puts pressure on them to respond while driving.

Arguably the most distressing of those statistics is the belief by teens that adults text or e-mail while driving “all the time.” We are quick to criticize and accuse teen drivers of careless driving, but what examples are we setting? Maybe we’re not texting, but we’re taking a business call instead. Maybe we’re scrolling through a playlist or getting GPS directions from Siri. Maybe we’re like the woman ahead of me in traffic yesterday who was smoking, eating a doughnut, drinking coffee and checking her eye make-up.

Whatever we’re doing, let’s stop. Let’s put the phone down, put the coffee down, and fix our make up when we get to office. The risks and the consequences are simply too high.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

Teen Cell Phone Use: Addiction or Integration?

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s no surprise when I say we’re a tech-addicted society. Things that we didn’t know existed 10 years ago are now a fundamental part of our daily lives. Case in point: our smartphones. According to a recent study, we check our smartphones an average of 110 times a day.

It’s also no surprise when I say the group most prone to this behavior is teens. This is the generation that really doesn’t remember a time before cell phones much the way my generation can’t imagine life without cable TV. (Yes, I had to go that far back for a technological innovation. Stop judging.)

How do you know if your teen’s attachment to his or her phone goes beyond the norm? At what point should you be concerned? Ira E. Hyman, Jr., Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University suggests applying the standard definition of addiction to cell phone use: “Tolerance (decreased value requiring more use to get the same effect); Withdrawal, (symptoms if you don’t have access to your addiction); Increased use; Inability to cut back on use; Reduction of competing behaviors; Engaging in the behavior despite risks and negative consequences.”

With this definition in mind, does your child:

Sleep with her phone?

Of those surveyed, 75% said their phone is never more than 5 feet from them at any given time. Fear Of Missing Out (or “FOMO”) is a big part of this. At an age when peer acceptance is at a premium, failure to respond to a text or phone call in the middle of the night can be a very big deal.

Experience anxiety if she is separated from her phone?

Let’s be honest, “Nomophobia” or the fear of “no mobile phone” affects more than just teens. Anyone would – or should – feel uncomfortable if their phone is lost, as we have so much personal information stored on our devices. But if being unable to check your phone for short periods of time leaves you feeling nervous or uneasy and leaves you unable to focus on the task at hand, there may be cause for concern.

Feel an overwhelming urge to respond to calls or texts immediately?

This is one is a little tricky. My husband is incapable of letting a phone ring or receiving a text without checking it. It goes against his personality and his nature as a therapist – “What if someone really needs me?” If your teen sees her phone as the priority at all times – regardless of circumstances – or her preoccupation with her phone keeps her from engaging with people or situations, it may be time for a conversation about boundaries.

It is important for us as parents to remember that what may seem over the top to us may be perfectly within reason to the next generation. While we struggle with a work/life balance and lament that work follows us home through our smartphones, our kids are growing up in a world where that will become a work/life integration. Technology seamlessly runs through their lives ostensibly without interruption.

This is not to say that there is no need for balance. Everyone needs to disconnect at some point. If your teen isn’t getting enough sleep or her grades are being affected, again, it’s time for a conversation. Any behavior that is having a negative effect needs to be addressed. Teaching our kids responsible cell phone use is part of teaching them self-care – it’s common sense parenting.

Remind them that no matter what is considered “normal,” there are times when using your phone is not okay – texting and driving for example. And as Hyman points out, a little more consideration for others when using a phone would be nice too. We’ve all been stuck near someone having a carefree conversation, oblivious to the fact the rest of us don’t want to hear about their bunion surgery, children’s potty training mishaps, or TPS reports.

Maybe that’s just me showing my age again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.