Cell phones are no substitute for parenting

Tweens & teens - July 2005


Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.


A generation ago, parents would try to ensure their young teen’s safety by sending him out the door with change in his pocket for the pay phone. Today, kids just take the whole phone.

Many parents like cell phones because they think they can stay in better touch with their child and that he is safer if he has a phone.

In some ways, this is true. But parents should not be lulled into a false sense of security. While a phone may be a communication aid, it is not a protection device, and it is not a substitute for good parenting.

Understand the following myths and facts if you plan to send your child out armed with a cell phone:

Myth: I can be in touch with him all the time because he has a cell phone.

Fact: You can be in touch with him as long as he keeps the phone with him, turned on, answers it when it rings and is in range of a cell tower. Distracted young teens can leave phones in cars, backpacks, basements, garages and other places where they set them down and forget to pick them up again. Phones can also be turned off—purposely or accidentally. A young teen wrapped up in what he is doing can decide not to answer a phone—especially if Mom or Dad shows up on caller ID when he doesn’t want to be bothered. If your young teen is traveling, remember that phones need to be within range of a cell tower to make a connection.

Myth: I know I can find her if she has her phone.

Fact: A cell phone is not a homing device. Just because your teen has one with her doesn’t mean you will know her every move. You can find her only if she picks up the phone—either to call you or when you call her—and tells you where she is.

Myth: I don’t have to worry about him being in danger because he has a cell phone.

Fact: Carrying a cell phone does not keep a child out of danger. It can be helpful if your teen finds himself in an unsafe situation and can call for help. For example, if he is at a party where kids are doing drugs and he wants to leave, he can call you to come pick him up. Or, if he finds himself in a car where the driver has been drinking, he can call a cab or call you for a ride. If he is walking down a dark street and is being followed by a gang of older kids with weapons, he can call 911 while he runs away. In situations such as these, the cell phone will help the child who wants to make a wise choice. It cannot, however, prevent him from being put into these situations. It also cannot prevent him from being abducted or getting into a car accident.

Myth: I don’t have to worry about her getting into trouble now because she has a cell phone—it’s like I’m with her.

Fact: You aren’t with her. She can just as easily get into trouble with a cell phone in hand. A cell phone doesn’t prevent a child from caving in to peer pressure or making bad choices. Your previous parenting, her self-esteem and her conscience will determine whether or not she drinks, smokes, tries drugs, shoplifts or is sexually promiscuous. The only control you have over what your child does comes from the solid base of good parenting you have built from the moment she was born through the moment you handed her the phone. If you have done your homework in this area, your child is more likely to make wise choices. But having a cell phone has no influence over that.

When considering whether to give your young teen a cell phone, ask yourself what your goal is. Then decide if your goal can be accomplished by handing over a phone. Remember—a cell phone is only as helpful as the responsibility and maturity levels of the child using it and the preparation and attention given by the parents.

Lisa M. Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 21 and 25. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.

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