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Tween Topic: Cell Phones

Tweens and Cell Phones

We are living in the age of the cell phone -- and it's at the top of most kids' wish lists. But does your tween really NEED one?

Internet safety expert Lori Getz says that it depends on how responsible your child is -- and why your tween needs it. "When your child is out of the supervision of an adult at any point in time, that's when they probably need one."

If your kid really wants one and you're not in favor of it, Getz advises having her start by making a case for why she needs it and how she is going to be responsible for it. Then you can look at the facts and make your decision.

If you do decide your tween daughter needs a cell phone, Getz recommends you buy her a phone that doesn't have a camera and doesn't have access to the Internet. She also recommends getting parental software on the phone. "That gives parents a little more control," she says. "You can dictate what numbers can come in and what numbers can go out. Most cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon offer this, but if yours doesn't, you can check out a third-party software like Websafety.com."

Getz says pre-paid cell phones are also a good choice. They stop working when a tween's minutes are up, and are a sure way to make sure you don't end up with an outrageous cell phone bill. In 2009, 13-year-old Dena Christoffersen of Cheyenne, Wyo., sent 10,000 texts and received about 10,000 text messages in one month, and her parents received a $4,756.25 cell phone bill. Gulp!

"This is a prime example of why parents should put a limit on texting," Getz says. "Tweens are not cognitively able to fully grasp how much they are doing it, and we want them to practice conversational skills as much as technological skills. That's why it's a good idea to limit the number of text messages they can send per month."

Should you read your tween's text messages? It depends, according to Getz. "Whether or not you read your child's text messages should really depend on how much privacy you give your child in the real world. A 10-year-old has little expectation of privacy in the real world, so she shouldn't expect any with her cell phone. In a few years, maybe you could reevaluate, but don't give her more privacy with her cell phone than you do in any other area of her life."

Getz also warns that cell phones should never go to bed with a child. "This interrupts sleep patterns -- plus tweens make their worst decisions at night, so it's never a good idea for them to have their cell phones in their rooms late at night."

It's important to teach tweens cell phone etiquette -- so you should model the behavior you want to see your child emulate. For instance, no talking or texting at the dinner table. "We have a basket at our front door -- the cell phone goes in it when we get home and we don't use it. It's family time and it's face-to-face time," says Getz.

Finally, don't be afraid to take away your tween's cell phone if she isn't responsible with it or doesn't keep it charged or powered up when you need her to have it on. "That's a sure sign she's not ready for it," Getz concludes.

Julie Taylor is a blogger, relationships writer, and author who lives with her husband, two kids, and Chinese pug in Los Angeles.
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