Do you remember life without cell phones and beepers? So often, I hear the present generation talk about how vital their cell phones are to their day-to-day existence.
More and more parents are giving their children cell phones with all the amenities - cameras and text messaging. Some even have internet capability.
However, what is the real value to having a cell phone? Parents will defend that it helps keep them in touch with their children. Children will express that it is a convenient way to stay connected with family, but also to stay connected with their friends. High school students will defend their right to privacy and their capacity to connect with friends whenever they wish.
Before the cell phone revolution, we had other ways to connect with friends. Yes, it wasn't always convenient, but it did keep us more honest and attentive to our responsibilities and obligations.
If you were a high school student, you found a land phone or public phone to use if you needed clearance for a last minute change in plans or for an extension. Life without cell phones forced human contact, even if you wanted to avoid it.
The cell phone revolution and the modern technology revolution make it almost impossible on the first try to reach a real person. How often when trying to reach your son or daughter about a change of plans or just a human connection, do you make your call and it automatically goes into voicemail because of a dead zone or the fact that your child might have the phone turned off?
We have become so technologically sophisticated that when we call a school, hospital or place of business, we no longer reach a real person, we reach an automated system that gives you a menu that is so complicated you feel you need a class before you try to access and use it.
The human connection that we once had of reaching out and talking seems to be lost in the rubble of modern technology. Some teenagers acknowledge that they like side stepping Mom and Dad with their cell phones. They claim it minimizes negative confrontations.
This same group of teenagers admits that they turn their cell phones off when they know their parents are looking for them and claim they are hanging out in a dead zone.
Teachers are complaining that cell phones are another major distraction in the classroom. Even though most schools have a prohibition against having a live cell phone with text messaging capabilities on campus or at least in class, many students will admit they lie and have their cell phones hidden in clothes and book bags during certain classes. They further admit to text messaging friends during class, especially when it is boring. Some really brave souls even make and receive calls during an actual class.
Some newer phones even have internet access, so students are now e-mailing friends while in class or between classes.
Is the cell phone a blessing and a curse? To some, it is really a blessing, for others, it is probably a mixture of both. If it is used as a tool for communication and keeping family members connected and close, it is a blessing. If it is used as a distraction, especially during school time and around non-essential things, it can be a real curse.
Teenagers love to gossip and talk with and about each other. In their gossiping, hurtful things can be conveyed. Cell phones can become very destructive weapons in those circumstances.
Maybe parents who feel their middle school and high school students need a cell phone should buy phones and usage plans with very clear restrictions. For example, if the major reason to have a cell phone is for parental communication and safety, have a phone programmed with parents' numbers, possibly an emergency contact and 911.
Using this model would eliminate the problems in school, the gossiping and being on the phone all hours of the day and night.
Parents who feel that their children should have free access to a cell phone should possibly consider a pay as you go plan or a monthly plan with a very limited number of talk minutes that would hopefully help the young person to be more accountable. So many teenagers go wild with cell phone use, go way over their minutes and cost their parents a fortune in overtime minutes.
Parents should really re-think text messaging. That seems to be a frivolous added expense that for many only gets them into trouble.
We should probably also think about phone etiquette. For many young people, their cell phone is like an added appendage. It is illegal to drive and use your cell phone unless you make it hands free. People caught in non-compliance should pay a heavy fine.
Schools should strengthen their restrictions on cell phones and the consequences for non-compliance. Parents should expect that all cell phones should be shut off during a family meal and/or during family time. It is not unreasonable to have a cell phone curfew during the week, especially during school times. Cell phones can be a convenient excuse for not studying for an exam or taking care of school business.
As parents, we have a right and an obligation to set forth some basic guidelines regarding responsible cell phone use. To help you with some basic cell phone guidelines and safety, check out www.wiredsafety.org.
Some basic cell phone rules should be: 1) never give your number out to people you don't know and trust; 2) never answer numbers and/or area codes you don't recognize; 3) don't reply to text messages from people you don't know; 4) never take pictures of anyone without their permission; 5) always use your common sense.
Don't assume that your son or daughter knows all the practical things about cell phones. Sit down and have a conversation without shame, blame or guilt. Remember communication is key even when it is awkward and uncomfortable.
It is important for our children to always feel welcome, no matter what the circumstance. They should never be inhibited to share whatever might be on their minds.
Cell phones are here to stay; that is probably not going to change. The instruments will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. As parents, we need to stay ahead of the curve. We need to remember that we are the parents and should set the parameters for our children to live within.
Remember, we cannot live on technology alone! Don't become a victim of our own technology!