Up until last week if there would have been a parade for people against middle schoolers having cell phones I would have been the grand marshall. I would have ridden in front (in a convertible of course) waving the banner HIGH. I was passionate about the subject and I let people know it!
But as Lily entered middle school Ryan and I really started to feel as though she needed a phone. We wanted to be able to leave her with friends for short periods of time and we don’t have a home phone. We had a pre-paid phone for home but it was constantly getting lost and didn’t hold much of a charge. And she was beginning to have more after-school activities where I wanted to be able to get a hold of her and couldn’t.
So off to Best Buy we went to get her the most basic of “feature phones.” We wanted something more than a flip phone since texting was an important feature. But beyond that, we wanted simple. And no “smart” with our phone.
But guess what? Those phones hardly exist anymore. When we got there and saw our choices they consisted of a huge variety of smart phones, one flip one and one other phone with a slideout keyboard and the old school resistive touch screen that basically never responds to touch. It got a 3 star review online.
Ryan and I literally sat in Best Buy for nearly an hour (while our two youngest kids went crazy with tablets) and debated what to do. This was going to be her eleventh birthday present so a flip phone seemed like the lamest gift ever. So if we wanted to avoid smartphones we were left with this really crappy other phone that, when we added her on our plan with a contract, ended up costing $50 more than a really good smartphone. But we were completely prepared to do it because we wanted to stand by our beliefs that middle schoolers should not have smartphones.
Well. Lily is now that proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy 4. We did not come to this decision lightly and it came with quite a few adaptations. Here is what we did:
- Turned Off Mobile Data: My biggest concern with a smartphone is that she would have access to the internet 24/7. Not only was I concerned about what she might see, but I didn’t want the phone becoming an extension of her arm. We tried to take her off our data plan but apparently phone companies like you paying for their data plans and Verizon wouldn’t shut it off. So instead we manually turned it off. She can browse under wireless in our home but we have filters and this was not different from before when she had access to tablets and her iTouch.
- Installed Family Base: When I called Verizon to ask them to shut off mobile they instead recommended this feature. It does cost like $5 a month but it is worth it because I can see all of what Lily does on her phone. I get weekly emails detailing who she is calling and texting (and who is calling and texting her). I can also see if she uses any mobile data which she knows she is not allowed to do. I can also see all this activity through an app on my phone. Family Base can also be used to block numbers from texting or calling if that every becomes necessary and limit the amount of money your kids can spend on apps (which would be zero in our case).
- Limited her hours of use: Again, we use Family Base for this. Her phone basically shuts down from 9pm-7am and doesn’t allow her to make or receive texts and calls. Originally we were just going to make her “turn in her phone” every night but we learned from trying this with other technology that we stink and consistency with this so the app makes it idiot proof for us.
- Disabled You Tube: We simply shut off the app under the settings
- Downloaded a safe browser: I liked the functionality of Mobicip. It restricts websites based on age. It also allows you to restrict your kids from downloading apps without a password. There is a paid version that does a bunch of other stuff but for right now we are just using the free features.
- Cell Phone Contract: When we gave her the phone we had a long talk about how this was a big responsibility and how we didn’t take it lightly. I had written up a cell phone contract and we went over it and she signed it. Honestly I think she was so excited about having a phone she would have signed anything. But so far she has shown a lot of maturity regarding her phone and I am proud of how well she is sticking to our rules. You are free to download our Cell Phone Contract and use it if you like.
Ryan and I really wanted to be upfront about our rules and what we expected from the beginning. I didn’t want to set her up for failure or try to “catch her” breaking rules. As she gets older we will loosen things up and she will be able to use the phone much more like a smart phone is intended. It is also excellent leverage when we need to punish her for attitude issues or behaviors completely unrelated to the phone. As the cell phone contract states right at the top, we consider this our phone that she is allowed to use. When she can pay for her own phone we can talk about different rules.
If there are any other ways / apps to protects kids online I would love for you to share them in the comments. I know this is a touchy subject, and one about which I still have strong opinions. But we made a decision that we are pretty happy with and hope is a good one for our family.