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Texts Tweets and TV part 2

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Boys Town's Lauran Buddenberg discusses cell phones and their place in your child's life.

I'm asking you your opinion, what do you think? Does a six year old need a cellphone? Middle school. Okay, I was going to say eight-years-old, ten-years-old, younger and younger kids are carrying cellphones. Here would be some questions I think you should ask yourself before determining whether or not you’re turning one of these devices over to a kid. First of all, what will they be using it for? If kids are much below middle school age for example, they are going to be in the care of an adult virtually all the time. Who would they call? That's number one. Number two, is your kids... some of you who have teenagers are now going to tackle at this but is your kid old enough to be responsible for a complicated and rather expensive if it needs to be replaced off your regular plan time if you get a free phone... electronic device? In other words is your kid likely to drop it? Is your kid likely to lose it? Okay, is your kid likely to damage it in some way because he's just not old enough or she's just not old enough to take care of it, in which case the answer to... is my kid ready for a cellphone?... is probably no. Can your kid understand the basics of stranger danger and safe usage of the device okay? Because kids will give out their phone numbers and information anywhere. If the answer is no, don't get one.

Now, here is also a revolutionary thought. Let's say you have a 13-year old who is going out on babysitting jobs. This might actually be a very good reason to provide a cellphone. What if there's an emergency, honest to goodness... what if the Dad of the family... the parents come home and Mom or Dad is supposed to drive the kid home and it's clear to the kid that the adult is not safe to drive. What if they're outside with the kids in the park and something happens and they need to reach you. All the reasons as parents we would say they might need a cellphone. Okay, but does the kid need to carry the phone all the time? No. Guess what, you are the parent. You give the phone and you can take it away. Which means that you can get a cellphone that is strictly used for emergency purposes. When you're babysitting, you can have the phone with you. When you are not babysitting, the phone goes back to the place where phones go when you aren’t carrying it. You don't have to let a kid have the phone at all times and in fact, at Boys Town, we would say that these electronic devices, okay... kind of going to number three on your top ten tips for parents list are privileges not rights. A kid does not have a right to a cellphone. Or to an iPad or to a computer game or any of those things, okay? Which means one nice way to ease your kid into cellphone usage... if you're thinking, “I have a 13 or 14-year-old and I'm thinking for safety purposes and for some other things, I would really like this kid to have a phone.”

It is to say we're going to get you a phone and we'll determine when you're going to carry it and if you're responsible with it... and by the way folks, all joking aside about your wireless bill, get familiar with it... because it's going to tell you who your kid called. Where your kid texted. I will, by the way, tell you that international texting is very expensive. Trust me on that one and to quote for a scam that's all I have to say about that. You're going to want to check the bill and make sure that you know what's going on and say to your kid, "We're going to monitor your usage of the phone when you have it." Can you monitor your kids' phone usage? Yes. Will your kids say that's not fair. It's private. It's my phone. Yes. Is it private? No. By the way all the guys down at the wireless carrier are probably getting a big charge out of the stuff they read that people are texting and sending on their phones. Another rule we want to make sure that we tell our kids when we're figuring out who is, "Do they understand that their cellphones are not private?" Anything they are texting, messages they are sending are public. Once they let it out there, they have no control where that information goes. None, zero. You are legally responsible for what the kid does on a device that you are paying for, so you want to be really clear with your kids about that.

Now, by the time you have a high school kid who's driving, honestly I see a lot of good things about cellphone usage. Okay, I will admit in our family when we did begin texting because this seemed to be the only way our kids would communicate with us and then they came out with the unlimited texting option, which excited my husband to no end because it was cheaper than some other stuff. I did actually announce to the entire family we are all texting all the time. Text me. We do and you know what, there are some nice things about that, too. Let them carry the cellphone at certain times if they demonstrate responsibility with it. If they aren't caught at school with it, by the way. Most schools have a rule that your cellphone has to be out of sight while you're at school. You know how many principals when we go around the country tell us and they show us their drawer full of unclaimed cellphones. Kid does not want to go home and tell Mom or Dad I got caught at school with the phone so kid goes home and says, what? “I lost my phone." If your kid comes home and says, "I lost my phone," I strongly suggest a phone call to school. Check, it may be that you're going to save yourself I don't know 70 bucks or whatever it is... 100 bucks. You might be paying for this phone off your plan renewal time because the principal can open his own cellphone store, go on e-Bay and retire early. I mean they're picking up tons of these things.

You got the who. Then you need to think about the what, and we need to be very specific with our kids about what they are allowed to do with their phones. I never dreamed a day would come that I would hand my child a device and actually say the words, "No naked pictures." I mean whoever thought you would have to say that. I did. That is because kids get in the moment. As Dr. Pat Friman would say kids are really good with the accelerator. They just don't quite yet have the brake in place. If everybody else is taking pictures and sending them or they get in the moment and they feel like it, they might do something goofy with the phone. It can happen. We need to be very clear with our kids about what they are allowed to send or what is smart to send on the phone, and what could happen if they are texting images and words that are hurtful to somebody, that do not fall in line with who we say they are and want them to be and who they really are. When it comes down to the what, we need to be clear about that. Don't leave it to chance, guys. Ask your kids, "What are people doing with their phones at school?", "What are people doing... What are your friends doing with the phones?" "What do you hear out there and what do you think about that?" If they're old enough to be carrying the phone, they're old enough for you to be having the conversation about it. Don't assume they know how you feel about it.

Okay, so you got the what. Then you need to figure out the where. Are cellphones going to be allowed at the dinner table? I would suggest no, theirs and yours. Okay, because if we also look at parenting tip number two, parents are the first and best teachers of their kids, which means that if we want them to use the technology wisely, we're going to have to unplug ourselves at some point, okay? When you're looking at the where, please set up some technology free zones and that includes the phone. Now I've been asked the question, "When should you actually take the phone away from the kid?" Good question. I would say give them a chance to simply put it away themselves and if they just can't separate themselves, removal of the phone is a great consequence. By the way, another one of the positive uses of the phone. You give it, you can take it away and it can be a good consequence, but tell them where they can use it. Can they use their phones in church? No, no. That would be a good time, by the way, to put the phone in your purse or demonstrate to them that they need to have the phone turned off or they don't need to have the phone there. Actually Buddenberg's phone went off in church and I pretended like I didn't know him. I mean I was just mortified. I was like, "Didn't you turn your phone off?" I was doing a workshop somewhere on a Monday when a guy came in and said he literally sat next to a man in church who answered his phone during the service and had a conversation during the sermon. You just think, "Ah, it's no wonder kids have trouble with it." But tell them where they can use it. Now can you have some give and take with your kids? Yes, probably. Okay, but make it clear that you are setting up some technology free zones. Why? Because you love them and you want to have a conversation, because you want them to have some time in their life when they are at least a little bit unplugged.

The next big question to answer is when. Now here is a big question we get from parents all the time. What happens at night? I know my kid is in there, texting until three and four in the morning. My kid sleeps with his phone under his pillow. My kid is staying up all night because she can't stand to be separated from friends and she feels like she needs to be on the phone all the time. Here's what I'm going to suggest to you on that one. I don't think it's good for kids to have their phones in their rooms all night long. Honestly who do they need to call? Now in your case, you may need the phone for emergency purposes. In all honesty and in our house, in the Buddenburg house, my father-in-law is 91 and he's been in ill health. We are, I will admit, a cellphone only family. We have no land line. Either Roger's phone is plugged in and charging somewhere where we can get to it if we need to or mine is. I prefer it be his because he has to get up to answer the phone at night but one or the other is. With your kids, uh-uh. If you sit down and you explain to them that first of all they need to get some sleep, they may not like that. Second of all you need to get some sleep and they can't really argue with that. Nobody wants to live with you if you are up listening to talking and texting all night. Another thing is you have no way of knowing what the policies are in other homes. If a kid says, "Hey, I'm getting enough sleep." Well, that maybe fine for you but if you are texting somebody who's going to get in trouble from her Mom and Dad or his Mom and Dad because they are not supposed to be on the phone at night. I don't want to be responsible for that.

Consider setting up a policy where you say, "All the phones go on the charger in Mom and Dad's room at 10 o’ clock." When basically it's time for you to be in your room, whatever time that is for you, if your kid has a phone, have them turn the phone in. Will you get weeping and gnashing of teeth? Yes, of course you will but you will also get the phone out of the kid's hand and they will learn to soothe down and go to sleep. They will figure out some other way to go to sleep. It's that simple. Okay, just take the phone, charge it. Then get it back in the morning and at least then you'll also know where it is. Do kids lose sleep? Yes. Do kids actually need somewhere between even our teenagers 9 and 11 hours sleep at night to function well? Yeah, they really do. Are they going to put the brakes on themselves? No. You are going to need to help them with that. In all honesty, I hate getting a phone call at night. I mean by the time you're a grown up, if the phone rings at night we're both lying there ignoring it hoping the other one is going to answer it. Desperately hoping. We need to help our kids set that boundary and learn when to put the phone away.

The other thing is you need to answer the how. There are two parts to the how answer. One of them is how are you going to monitor it? I suggest that you keep an eye on their cellphone records. If they turn their phone into you at night, there is absolutely no reason you can't scroll through the phone. Now kids will tell you that, it's their private business. Once again go back to what we said at the beginning. No, it isn't. You are paying for it. It is the device they are using. Everything they are doing on it is getting stored in a central repository somewhere and they need to use it responsibly and properly. Part of the way they do that and earn your trust is demonstrating that they can use it that way. Get familiar with your wireless bill. If you see numbers on there you don't recognize, if you see international texting, I mean any of those things, sit down and say, "Here's the bill. What can you tell me about what's going on here?" And try to figure it out. Okay, the other how is figure out what your consequences are for improper use of the phone. The best is phone removal at least for a brief period of time.

Now you'll look at adolescents. A woman named Shaunti Feldhahn did some research with adolescents. She went to find out what motivates kids. She in all of her research found out that there is one thing, one thing that motivates kids more than anything else. One thing they will do anything for. Any guesses? What it is that kids want more than anything? Well, their friends are part of it and their phones represent it in a major way. Yup, freedom. Now adolescents define freedom as I can do whatever I want whenever I want. We know as adults that that is not what freedom is. Freedom is I have the ability to do the right thing and choose the right thing, but yeah, freedom. Restricting a kid’s cellphone usage is a form of curtailing freedom. Bear in mind when you're setting consequences for your kids or when as a family you're looking at your policy about media usage, you don't want to get too extreme with your consequences unless the behavior is really big, okay? Because otherwise your kids will conceal from you and then you can't help them with this area of their life. I would also say set up a consequence for if your kid does not respond to you. You do provide the phone for safety and you provide the phone for family communication. I have been known to text my daughter these words, "If I do not get a reply from you in 15 minutes, I will be contacting law enforcement." This is not a threat. I mean you know and I mean it too. It's like, "Okay, guys, I know you know where that phone is because I've seen you with it and you know what, I'd suggest you do the same thing." Don't sit around and say, "Oh, my gosh, we're paying a fortune to the wireless company and the kid will never talk to me." Okay, if that's true and you're serious, make it clear to your kid there is a consequence for not responding.

“How old was the kid at that time?” “How old is the kid?” “A kid.” I would say... So you're thinking about young adults? Some of you have young adults. I would say if you are paying for that cellphone, that's still a kid, okay? If you are paying for the device... you want to look at the research out there now talking about adolescence lasting until about the age of 25. I'm not even joking about that. I would say if you're paying for the device, yeah. Now older kids will tend to get on board a little bit more but we worry about them too. By the way when we're hoping our kids figure out this policy and when we're working on this as a family, make sure that you give reasons for what your policy is. The reason that you want your kids to respond to you when you're calling them is that you love them. You are generally having a concern about their safety or you need to hear from them and when they don't respond to you, you in fact worry that something has happened to them. My favorite always was from the kids with their cellphones. It would be like, "Well, are you checking up on us?" Or the infamous question, "Don't you trust me?" The answer to that would be, "Do I look stupid to you?" No, no. Of course I don't trust you. I wasn't born yesterday. I mean... and the answer a lot of times was “that's really not it but it's that, you know what I need to...”

Now, the funniest thing we ever had happen with the phones was the reverse. At this point... we had phones... I had a phone... Roger had a phone and we were cellphoning. Our daughter number two was still at home. She wasn't away at college yet. We went out with friends to a jazz concert and then we all decided to go out to eat so it was late. In the Buddenburg house, late for the grown-ups is like midnight. I mean this is revolutionary and we were awake and everything. We ate and life is good and we're heading home and it's about 12:45 and curfew for the kid was midnight. It's about 12:45 and my cellphone rings. There's no precursor, I answered it and I have an irate kid, "You aren't home." I got here and you weren't home and you didn't leave a note. I said, "We’re out with James and Betsy." Well, she said, "You have a cellphone." I said, "Back at you." I mean... “and I was worried but I didn't know where you were.” I mean it was just absolutely hilarious. We hang up the phone. We just laughed and laughed about it but that made the point, so be clear with your kids and that's why. When you are a family and you love each other, you are concerned for each other's safety. You use the phone to communicate that. You aren't spending your life trying to monitor them. Although if you think they are somewhere they shouldn't be, doing something they shouldn't be doing, give them a phone call and make it clear to them that if they don't respond to you, you're going to call law enforcement because you’ll assume some dire thing has happened or that there will be consequences for that and that would be some curtailing of phone usage. I strongly suggest that. Otherwise, you are going to be the instrument of your own misery and you'll be paying a fortune for your kid to talk to everybody else in the universe but you.

Get familiar with your wireless carriers. Some of you may be thinking, "Oh, boy, that is a scary prospect." Yes but your wireless carrier can in fact turn the phone off for you. You are the administrator of that account. You can do it online or other features. We actually had a scary situation where daughter number one had been in a pretty severe car accident, hit by a drunk driver. Like blew like .225. I mean I was surprised he could even sit up behind the wheel. Of course we are a cellphone only family and on the accident report she had written down her cellphone number and mysteriously about two months later, her cellphone got shut off and we didn't do it. I had a moment of panic. I was trying to reach the kid and she wasn't responding and she really does respond pretty well. I called a friend of hers at work and the friend said, "You know what she was supposed to call me an hour ago and we're wondering where she is." I called the wireless company and they said. "Well, somebody called in this morning and shut off your service to that phone." And I said, "Uh-uh." We're still trying to figure out how that happened and in fact I said, "Turn it back on." Well, later after many conversations with the wireless carrier, they said, "Well, it was an accident." Apparently they intended to shut off somebody else's service and inadvertently shut off your daughter's service. And I said, "You know she lives in an apartment in midtown. She's out and about. She works nights. That was kind of scary." So that's another thing to tell your kid. Any number of things can happen to your phone service and when that's a way that you stay safe and reach us, if you aren't answering us, we're going to try to find out what happened. Yes, you can also exercise parental control on the phone without getting into a push me, pull you over the phone. No, you don't want to go through there. That's a very good tip. If you didn't know that you know it now. Get familiar with your wireless carrier and learn how to do that. Any other phone related question?

Oh, the phone, it is a fun topic. Okay, now so kids are spending roughly 30 minutes a day talking on their phones. They are sending over 118 texts a day. They're actually attached to their phones all the time. Phones tend to be the big pain for parents and teachers. Okay, now the other form of media... another form that kids are using quite a bit is the computer. Kids are using that computer. What do kids spend most of their time doing when they are using a computer do you suppose? They are doing social networking and they are also viewing videos. They are going on YouTube and other sites like that. Kids use the computers recreationally, if you look at the Kaiser study, about an hour and a half a day. Some of you are going, “My kids are using it way more than that.” Probably some kids are and kids are doing a combination of things on it. They certainly do school work on it but most of them are in fact doing some form of social networking. Now does anybody know what Facebook lists on its website as being the minimum age for usage? Thirteen. Why do you suppose Facebook says you got to be 13? To protect themselves, yes, and because really social networking as much fun as it can be... I recently connected up with a friend that I had known in junior high and high school. I was at her wedding right after we graduated from college and she moved all over the country and we lost track of each other and she got a Facebook page and she's living in Vegas now but her mom still lives just a few blocks from my folks, and we got together over the summer and it was great. I have found all kinds of friends that I haven't seen in a long time through Facebook, and we're keeping touch... we're in the baby watch. One of my nephews and his wife are expecting their first and so... I mean Facebook is not a bad thing. However, you have to watch what you’re doing with it. You have to pay attention to your privacy settings and kids will post things on their Facebook pages that they really wouldn't want the world to see.