Today Sally Donovan shares her wise words on the subject of mobile phones.
Jamie wanted a phone from before way back when. He finally got one on his eleventh birthday because he was about to start travelling to secondary school courtesy of the not altogether reliable school bus service. We thought it would be a good insurance policy against being stranded in the middle of nowhere in the middle of winter. And all his friends had one. They’d had them since they were in junior school, around the time they started playing Grand Theft Auto and going to bed at ten o’clock and buying cans of Red Bull on their way to school.
The mobile phone was loved and adored from the moment it was unwrapped. Everyone’s phone numbers were collected; mine, Rob’s, Granny’s, Aunty Alice’s and we were all bombarded with texts. Some of them even made sense.
Within a few days of the first ten pounds of credit being loaded though, it was gone. I added another ten pounds. It disappeared.
To cut a (very) long story short, I eventually worked out he was sending literally hundreds of texts. (That’s what they do.) Many of them were split into single words.
I changed his tariff and bingo, ten pounds lasted a month.
Then we went through a period which I’ll call The Era of Repeated Breakages, Damages and Taking the Piss. There were multiple incidents involving the washing machine, smashed screens, school confiscations and night time shenanigans. There was also the resetting of the passcode and the subsequent forgetting of the passcode. There would be Mr D, pale with frustration, explaining that he had set it to something highly memorable so not to change it again, only for it to be changed again. Let’s just say me and the young man in the O2 shop are now on first name terms.
Despite all the frustrations there’s been an interesting and unexpected upside to the mobile phone. It started one morning after a terrible getting off to school.
I don’t know why I say those things
Then a few days later came
Then, after hours of awful trauma (the sort when things get smashed)
I do love you
These little text messages represent glimpses into an inner world, glimpses which I might not have got any other way and they were a way for him to reach out.
It works in the other direction too. If I know he’s had a difficult day at school I might text
Mrs W has told me what happened. Don’t worry we’ll sort it out. See you when you get home. Mum xx
It seems to prevent the whole walking in through the door in fight mode.
Last week I texted
I know the last few days have been pretty awful. How about a fresh start and some chocolate biscuits when you get home?
I got an immediate response
When one’s parenting is already frayed by the usual everyday challenges of life it is tempting to avoid introducing in any more complications. But there is no getting around it; young people all have mobile phones and digital communications have become central to the way friendships operate. Not to have one, is to be different from the crowd, and that’s something many of our children struggle with.
I can’t pretend I haven’t at times been driven to distraction by the mobile phone, but Jamie has learnt and matured through the experience and now is a (more or less) responsible phone user.
If you are wavering on the edge of this next step in your child’s life, here are my tips:
- Buy them a cheap smart phone. (They all have smart phones.) If you spend lots of money you will really feel pissed when they drop it (which they will).
- Buy a protective case.
- Jamie’s first and subsequent phones were half paid for by him and half by us. This gave him a greater sense of pride when he went into the shop, asked for the phone and handed over the money.
- We made a big thing about his first phone. There was a sense of celebration and excitement, which matched his state. We had already set out the rules around phone ownership and usage so the moment wasn’t ruined by us nagging.
- Set out clear rules. Our included things like ‘at night, put the phone to charge downstairs so you’re not tempted to use it when you should be asleep’.
- Most young people send far more texts than they make phone calls so ask for the correct tarif when you buy the phone.
- We live in an area with terrible 3G so we didn’t have to worry too much about what J was accessing on the internet while he was away from home. It’s worth remembering though that smart phones are mini-tablets so if your child is attracted to certain types of websites then they are probably going to access them using their phone. I know some parents who regularly check their child’s phone and may confiscate it if certain rules have been broken. We have gone down the confiscation route occasionally and only in response to something significant.
- They will make many, many mistakes concerning their phone, as they do in other areas of their lives. They will lose them, break them, bring them out during a lesson and send unwise messages to people whose parents take offence. My only advice is try not to sweat it but help them learn from it. If they make tonnes of mistakes then perhaps they aren’t ready for their own phone just yet.
- Texting may just open up communication between you and your child, when nothing else can. It can be a great and non-threatening method of repair. Sometimes a short text tells a thousand words.
Sally Donovan is the author of the moving adoption story No Matter What. To purchase click here.