Will Their Thumbs Fall Off?

Watching my teenager and her friends use their cellphones and facebook has got me thinking a lot about parenting in this age of social technology. It seems to me teens are swimming in a deep enough sea of drama armed only with an old fashioned telephone. But these days the constant flow of information between them on a moment-to-moment basis via texting and facebook is taking gossiping and bullying to a new level, and gives teens (and adults) a platform to naively bare their dirty laundry in a public place.

I haven’t had a cell phone for years. Working at home always next to the land line has made it an unnecessary device for me.  However, lately I’ve been doing more and more social media work for my clients, and after seeing them post messages and photos to their twitter and facebook accounts via smart phone I felt compelled to get one for myself to fully experience the process.

Needless to say I have found it quite addicting. I texted for the first time just a month ago and understand the beauty of it. Texting is similar to emailing; you can carry on a conversation with someone without making them stop what they’re doing to pay attention. They can get back to you when it’s convenient and vice versa. Plus you can text when making a phone call is inappropriate.

However I have come to the conclusion that if I’m with other people face to face in a social setting, sending a text is just as rude as making a phonecall (unless there’s parenting or an emergency going on). Have you ever seen a table in a restaurant with 4 adults sitting there all looking down at their cellphones, busy texting? I find that ridiculous.

My experience with the smart phone has enabled me not only to text but to be able to check my facebook account anywhere there’s more than 2 bars. Because of this I have spent way more time on facebook than I used to, and have noticed both teens and adults air their dirty laundry in this public venue — from pictures of teens at parties they shouldn’t be at, to post breakup ex-bashing by grownups. I cringe when I see this stuff.

This telling-all via texting and facebook feels pretty unnatural to me, but when I think about my 15 year old I realize this generation is a different animal. Cellphones have been in use from before they were born, and I’m sure it’s quite natural — and perhaps even preferred — to communicate via keyboard.  It affords the ability to say stuff and walk away before anyone can respond or react as they would be able to in a face-to-face interaction. I think this type of conditioning can threaten one’s ability to have a real conversation, and genuinely listen to (and understand!) what another is saying. Another thing I noticed is sometimes I misunderstand what the other person is saying sans the body language and facial expressions.

Ok I’ve made my point. I enjoy the heck out of my iPhone and you’d probably have to pry it out of my dead clammy hands to get me to give it up.  However, me being a person of excess by nature, I’m working on setting some boundaries for myself and my teen in regards to new types of social technology. I want to keep my ability to communicate face-to-face intact, and always keep in mind the old saying with a new spin “count to ten before typing anything”.  Muttering something under your breath is one thing — but a text or email doesn’t go away!

I found this contract online that may be a good starting point in helping me and my daughter make some healthy cutbacks together, and maybe someone else will find it useful.

Parents and Teens Contract: Cell Phone Use

I know that having a cell phone to use is a privilege. I respect that my parents love me and want to keep me safe. My parents respect that I am becoming a young adult and want the privilege of having the use of a cell phone. With that in mind, we agree:

1. I will remember what usage is allowed with our cell phone plan and I will not go over the limits of that usage. This includes number of minutes, text message limits and/or ____________________________________.

2. I know that I am required to contribute to the cost of my cell phone. My contribution is:

3. My cell phone mut be turned off at this time _________________ each night. It is my responsibility to be sure the cell phone is being recharged each night.

4. I agree that if I am unable to keep up with my responsibilities, the use of my cell phone can be taken away from me. This can happen even if I have contributed to the cost of the cell phone plan.

5. I will not use my cell phone to take pictures of nudity, violence or other unallowed instances.

6. I will not use my cell phone to call anyone for malicious purposes. (bullying, crank calling, etc.)

7. I will not use my cell phone while driving.

8. I will limit the number of people that have my cell phone number.

9. I will limit the amount of time I am on the phone. These limitations are:

The consequences for not following through with these limits on my cell phone use are: