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Should you give a tween a phone?

I’ve shared the scary truth about what parents need to know about their kids’ electronic use before, but I’ve also found a wonderful balance that is working for our family.  That I wanted to share with you today.  I’ve partnered with Verizon Wireless to share the parents’ guide to kids and tech. 

Should I get my tween a phone_
When our son was 10, he asked for a phone; we said no.

When our son was 11, he asked for a phone; we said no.

When our son turned 12, he asked for a phone; we said yes.
We surprised him by giving it as a gift after careful thought & planning.   We went to Verizon Wireless, and we added him to our plan. We also passed his Gizmo onto his younger brother.

I knew that he was ready (as ready as a tween can be) because he had proven his responsibility.  Before you read on, be aware that our son does not have the same use of his “phone” as many of his friends,  or kids his age, but I’m OK with that and so is he.
What does that mean? 

  • It means that he doesn’t have free-range of use.
  • It means that he doesn’t have access to it whenever he wants it.
  • It means he does not have any social media apps on his phone or any apps that I do not approve of.
  • It means that I know exactly when he has it and what he is doing with it.

I think of a child with a phone the same way that I would think of a 16-year-old teenager with a car. He is allowed to have it when we give him the “KEYS.”

Should I give my tween a phone_
Here is how it looks in our house —>> I keep the phones, iPads, iPods, etc… in a basket. I keep that basket on top of the refrigerator. That basket stays on top of the refrigerator until I am ready to pass out electronics.

They only get their electronics on certain occasions:
1- If we are going on a long car trip (over 2 hours).
2- If they are going to a friends house and I want to be able to contact them.
3- If I am going somewhere with all four kids and I know that I will need them to be very quiet (like at a meeting or appointment).
4- If I think they will want their camera… like when we are visiting somewhere new and I know they’ll want to remember certain places.

A wooden pier next to a body of water.
In the past year, I can only remember a handful of times when the kids had asked for their iPad or phone during a time when it didn’t fall into one of these categories. Either they have had a friend over and wanted to play a game, or they needed the camera to take pictures or make a video.

I will usually allow it, and then they give them back when they are done. I don’t want them to rely on electronics to entertain them, so we decided this rule in 2017, and we’ve stuck with it.

I’m sure it will change as the kids grow, but for now, it works.

I’m sure someone will read this and think: “They can just grab it from the refrigerator when you aren’t around.”
Sure, they could.

They could break the rules just like they could break any rules in our house. However, if they did break that rule and use their electronics at home when I did not give permission, it would break my trust.

That is not something that we take lightly. Better to learn the rules at home with me than out in the real world when they are grown: Breaking a rule comes with consequences. Following the rules comes with benefits.

Should I get my tween a phone_

So… now that I have explained HOW electronics work in our house, let me tell you why I’m OK with our kids having them.

Giving a Tween A Phone & Why it can work: 

1- Have a Safe Word

Our kids have a safe word. If they go somewhere and don’t feel comfortable, they can call me. They can use that safe word in a conversation, and I will pick up on it and leave to pick them up. It can be awkward to call your parents from your friends’ mom’s cell phone and say you are ready to come home. With a text or call using that safe word, it’s discrete to the host but clear to me.

2- Monitor Everything

Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 61% of parents “have checked which websites their teen has visited.” Between giving teens privacy and freedom to express themselves, and also ensuring protection from the potential dangers of the internet, parents face a delicate balance.

Verizon Wireless has created tools that help balance trust and safety. With tracking programs and apps that also limit teens online activity, Verizon Wireless is dedicated to bridging the gap between safety and freedom.

By using Verizon FamilyBase, I can always see who calls him (he is not much of a caller or texter, so he isn’t usually one to start up a conversation), who texts him & how much data he is using.

When we gave our son his phone, I took him aside and showed him exactly what I could see when he was on his phone. I showed him the activity that I saw, the web pages that I visited on his phone, the texts that I sent, the calls that I made. I reminded him that I could see deleted texts, that I could see deleted images, etc… I also told him that if he were to ever come across something questionable, I would not be upset in any way as long as he comes to us.

3- Use the GPS Tracking

We use Verizon Wireless Family Locator with GPS Tracking. If I tell him to take his phone with him to a friends house, it is because I want to track him. I want to know when he gets there and when he leaves to come home. This is for safety, and he knows that I am keeping an eye on him.

I also use the Gizmo to track our other kids. They have to wear it if they go on a bike ride or to a friends house. It’s not an option. I keep the Gizmos in the same spot on a desk (by the charger), and they grab it when they leave. They can call or text me anytime from the Gizmo. I want our kids to have freedom, but I also want to know just where they are at all times.

4- Hold the Password

This one is a simple solution for me to have control over all of our kids devises. I keep the password. If they want a new app, they have to come to me. If they’re going to change something, they have to go to me first. When they are old enough to handle it, I will let them change the password. Until then, I will be in charge of it.

5- Swap Chores for Screentime

Do you remember where I said that sometimes they would ask for their electronics? This comes with a boundary. Have they helped out enough? Have they done their part to help our family? Check out my Swap Chores for Screentime idea here.

I don’t take electronics lightly. I know that they come with a lot of responsibility and I know that it is MY job to be responsible.  It is my job to be their parent.  Sure, it would be easier to give them their phone or electronics at any time, but I’m not OK with that.  It would be easier not to use the apps & controls, but my job as a parent isn’t to take it easy.

My job is to teach our children, to love our children, to nurture our children, and to teach our children.

I have seen how children easily lose control when they aren’t given boundaries. Verizon FamilyBase puts those boundaries back.  It gives you the ability to lock their phone at any time. I think this feature is impressive because I don’t believe that kids should have free-range of data, so this is an easy way to keep that under wraps.

Then, once you’ve set up these boundaries, you are free to enjoy it. 🙂 I think that my favorite part about giving our kids devises is that I can send them something and it’s just another way to connect.  I’ll send our son a GIF or a meme that I know will make him laugh. Though he can’t see it at the time, he will get it the next time he has his phone and he’ll laugh just like I knew he would.z

How to turn off their electronics without an argument 1

No Screentime Until

Hi there!

I’m Becky, a former elementary school teacher turned certified child development therapist and blogger. I work at home with my husband and together we are raising (and partially homeschooling) our four children in the Carolinas. I love diet coke, ice cream, and spending time with my family.

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1 Comment

  1. This is an excellent article, Becky! I think your family policy on phones and electronics is perfect for tweens. Kids that age shouldn’t have free rein over their phones.

    I thought I’d mention that iPhone users can enable Apple Family Sharing to monitor and share purchases on family devices. Another iPhone feature, “Find Friends,” allows you to monitor and track your kids’ whereabouts via GPS.