As a family therapist, I have gained some insights that helped me compile these cell phone and screen use rules for tweens.
- Never write or forward a photo, or anything in a text, that you wouldn’t want forwarded to everyone in your school, your principal and your parents.
Remember that everything you send can become public.
- Always ask before you forward a text or photo.
Be respectful. How would you feel if someone forwarded an unflattering photo of you?
- Always ask before you take a photo or video.
Even once someone has given you permission to take a photo, ask before you post it.
- If someone asks you to send a sexy photo…
…remember that even with Snapchat (which “evaporates” the photo), the picture can be copied and forwarded to others. Anyone could see it — every kid in the school, your teachers, your parents. It happens all the time to great kids. Just don’t send it. And talk to your parents about it.
- If you receive a sexy photo…
… immediately delete it from your phone, tell your parents, and block the number so you can’t receive more. Possession or distribution of sexual pictures of people who are underage is illegal. If the person who sent it to you asks why, just say “It’s illegal.”
- Never post your cell phone number
…on Facebook, or broadcast it beyond your friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.)
- Never broadcast your location
…except in a direct text to friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.) Don’t use location apps that post your location.
- Never respond to numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t answer a call. Don’t respond to a text.
- If you receive an unsolicited text, that’s spam.
Don’t click on it. It can be sent by someone who wants to put a virus on your phone which can damage your phone or let them take your information or photos. Instead, tell your parents so they can report the problem and have the caller blocked.
- Don’t download apps (games, movies, etc) without your parents’ permission.
- Don’t wear your cell phone on your body
…and don’t use it if you can use a landline. Cell phones are always looking for a signal, and that means they’re sending out waves that you don’t want going through your body. Health risks? Maybe. We don’t know enough yet. So why not just be cautious?
- Set up your charging station downstairs…so your phone is not in your room at night.
- No cell phones at the dining room table.
- No cell phones out of your backpack while you’re in class.
And of course turn the sound off (or better yet, turn off the phone entirely!).
- Have a life.
Don’t feel obligated to respond to texts right away and don’t text until homework is done, during dinner, or after 9pm.
- Nothing replaces FtF.
If a “friend” sends you a mean message, take a deep breath and turn off your phone. Talk to them the next day, Face to Face, about it. Never say anything via text that you wouldn’t say Face to Face.
- Monitor your phone usage to prevent addiction.
Our brains get a little rush of dopamine every time we interact with our phones, so every text you send or receive, every post or update, feels good. Why is that a problem? Because it can distract us from other things that are important but maybe not so immediately rewarding, like connecting with our families, doing our homework, and just thinking about life. To prevent addiction, make sure you block out time every day — like while you have dinner and do homework — when your phone is off. If you feel like that’s too hard, talk to your parents about it and ask for their help. There are programs that prevent your phone from being used at times you designate.
- Don’t do double or triple screens (some combo of tv/tablet/phone/ipad, etc).
- Always end screen time nicely when asked or risk losing it for the next round.
- Always ask before you download/watch new games, youtube series or show.
- Do not walk around in city or cross street and use your phone/device at the same time. Turn it off or put it away when you walk down steps or cross the street.
- Do you not use your advice in bed, at the dinner table or when friends are over for playdates unless there is specific permission or plan for using it for the sake of fun and enjoying each other.
- Politely look up, listen, and respond when someone nicely asks you something while you are playing. If you get 2 warnings, the device will be turned off or taken away without an explanation.
- Please keep your game/comments to yourself while playing your device and turn the volume down so you don’t disrupt others.
- Do not text/play/watch while you drive, walk or complete important tasks (i.e. homework, quality time with friends or family, meals etc).