Parenting Children

Connecting with your kids through cell phones

Let’s face it: cell phones get a bad rap. I’m the first one to line up and criticize the addictive behaviors kids are learning through over-dependence on cell phones. Kids exhibit withdrawal-like behaviors when they’re not plugged in for over 15 minutes. And let’s be honest: moms and dad are sometimes worse.

Electronic devices such as cell phones can distance us from meaningful relationships. They entice us to live in a virtual world, to disrupt healthy sleep patterns, to introduce electronic bullying, stalking, and predatory opportunities, and might even expose young children to harmful levels of radiation.

Okay, now the good news. Like all technology, cell phones are amazing if we tap into the good stuff and manage the bad. After raising 5 teenagers, these are the ways cell phones have enriched our family relationships:

  1. Wonder where your kid is? “Find My Friends” is an app that lets you see your kid’s precise location. No way to lie about where they are. If your kids balk at the “stalking parent” approach, make it a condition of having their phone in the first place. They have nothing to hide, right?
  2. Speaking of finding friends, there are so many times when I need to find my child to pick them up at school, or find them in a crowded public place. Finding them via text or calling saves me HOURS of wasted time. I remember years ago, before cell phones, my family went to Disneyland. We split up and had one Walkie Talkie per group. We thought we were so cool!  So did everyone else at the park who couldn’t find their group. Cell phones have made everyone go a little less crazy finding their kids.
  3. Cell phones offer some really fun games. We love group games like Headbandz or Charades, but any solitary game can pass the time waiting at the doctors, or attending a sibling’s LONG and BORING musical Jr. high concert.
  4. Speaking of games, there are tons of educational benefits awaiting on a cell phone. When my kids had to memorize a huge list of words for school, we used a flashcard app, and I’d test them on it. Educational games are great, but be careful to limit their time and not let the games replace human contact. We tend to justify “learning” games, but human-to-human interaction has been proven as the best learning relationship.
  5. Safety and escape plan. There was an interesting blog post that highlighted the need for kids to have an emergency plan in case they got in over their heads with social pressure. He called it their “x-plan” which means an escape plan using their cell phones. Teens can type “x” to their parent’s number which is a secret code for “help me I need to get out of here.” If you get that “x” text, you call your teen back immediately with a bogus story. “Hey something has come up and I need to pick you up right away.” The teen can feign disappointment, but he’s secretly relieved to get out of a party that has turned into drinking, sexual activity, or anything he’s not comfortable with.
  6. Speaking of safety, I  have such a peace of mind knowing that if my teen was on an outing and got lost, perhaps even where it would turn into a critical situation like in the mountains, he would have his cell phone with him to dial 9-11 or phone a parent to help rescue him. My daughter did just that on a side of a road in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho after hitting a deer.
  7. The camera function on a phone is indispensable! Teens have become genius at capturing important information and images using their cell phones. It might be written instructions, a map, or a recipe that they can pull up later to easily reference. It’s the best! If you have a child who has missed a family event, like dinnertime, you can take a picture of the plate of food, text it to them with the message, “We missed you at dinner. Hope you can make it tomorrow.”
  8. Google Maps. Needs I say more? Never get lost again. For someone who is directionally challenged, this would have been a life saver as a teenager.
  9. Send your kid “love notes” via cellphone. Emojis are the new adolescent language. Teenagers can turn cold and prickly during their pubescent years, but will still accept texts with happy, loving messages.
  10. Another spin on #9 is to set up a family group text and send daily inspirational messages. You can do this through “Messenger” as well to include videoclips. These are private messages to your kids with a scripture of the day, an inspirational quote or meme, or anything that brightens their day.
  11. Put on music or podcasts while you and your kids are cleaning the house. It makes a huge difference to take your mind off the drudgery of cleaning by singing and dancing along or learning interesting stuff from a podcast.
  12. Now that I’m a grandma and have kids around the country, can I just end on this major point? Face time, Google hangout, or Skype on my phone is a way for us all to stay connected no matter where we are. I love technology when it melts the miles between us. You can even prop up the phone while you are playing a game or eating dinner to have the faraway child feel like part of the family, if only for a while. For free!

My husband and I were very careful to monitor our kids’ cell phone usage, as well as other electronic devices. We even started them on phones that were call and text only, no WiFi. But as they grew older and learned responsibility, the world opened up through these devices and became a tool for connection. The trick is to be ever-vigilant and in control rather than the other way around. Parents should be their kids’ best examples of putting away devices when a real face time is needed.