If your teenager has a cell phone, it probably seems to be attached as an extra limb. Every chance he gets, he’s likely texting, surfing the web, updating his social media status -- and perhaps, just perhaps -- even talking on it. According to research conducted by Pew Internet and American Life Project, over half of all teenagers own a cell phone, and nearly a quarter of them use smart phones -- and this number has increased every year. As more teens acquire these mobile marvels, the line between what is considered acceptable usage and downright rudeness is becoming more and more blurred. If you’re worried about your teenager’s etiquette when it comes to cell phone usage, consider imposing some guidelines.
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Does your teen’s phone travel with him to the dinner table every night, or to Grandma’s house for Sunday brunch? If so, it may be time to establish phone-free zones. This means that, except in the case of an emergency, absolutely no phones can be used at the dinner table or during certain family gatherings where phone use would be considered rude. During these time periods, phones should be put on silent and be placed in another room. This includes your phones, too, parents -- after all, you can’t expect your 16 year old to take your rules seriously if you’re checking your work email every 10 minutes at the dinner table.
Teenagers should be taught that cell phone usage should never, ever take precedence over real, live conversations. That means that they should not be texting or playing games while their parents, siblings, grandparents or any other human beings are trying to converse with them. If emphasized enough at home, this behavior could carry over into your teen’s peer relationships as well; he might just find himself telling his friends, “Hey, put down your phone. I want to talk to you.” Gasp!
You’re sitting at a restaurant table, waiting for your fried green bean appetizer, when your teenager pulls out his cell phone and starts texting a friend while you’re asking him about his school day. Rude? Yes. Preventable? Absolutely. Consider setting up guidelines for when cell phone usage is not acceptable in public. Restaurants and movie theaters and church? No way. The mall or while you’re grocery shopping? Maybe, periodically. Sporting or concert events that you’re paying $100 a ticket for? Probably not. The guidelines are up to you -- just make sure they’re practical and enforceable.
Today’s parents likely never even considered calling a friend after a certain point in the evening, because calling a friend meant calling his house. Which meant his parents could answer. Which meant you could get in trouble, and so could he. Thanks to the wonders of the “silent” button on cell phones, conversations can now go on into the wee hours of the morning and you will never hear a peep coming from your teen’s room. As such, you’ll want to establish guidelines for “after-hours” usage, even if it means that your teen hands over the phone at, say, 10 p.m. and gets it back in the morning. Teach your teen that even if he doesn’t have to get through a parental firewall, this doesn’t mean that he should be texting his friend at midnight, asking him whether he thinks Janie will go with him to the prom.
Remind your teenagers that cell phones -- especially smart phones -- can also serve as mini-recorders. Every picture they snap and every text they send can find permanency somewhere on the Internet if they’re not careful. Teens should be warned about the dangers and consequences of risky behaviors such as sexting, cyber-bullying and the posting of personal contact information.