So God Made a Teacher Collection (Sale!) ➔

Recently I was sitting in a conversation with a few girlfriends when the topic of cell phones came up.

It’s common. If you have a tween, deciding when is the “right time” to provide your child with a mobile device comes up all the time.

“My kid has to wait until she is 13,” one mom exclaimed defiantly. “She doesn’t need to be walking around with a brand new iPhone at eleven. I mean, seriously!”

I nodded my head in agreement, although my daughter is one of the 11-year-old’s walking around with a brand new iPhone. Last Christmas our local Verizon store had an Oprah moment when we went in to upgrade my husband’s older model. After insisting we only wanted one upgrade, we walked out with six brand new iPhones, including one for my 75-year old mother.

And my three tweens doubted Santa was real.

Besides the awkward feeling that I needed to confess that my daughter was sporting a phone worth more than I paid for my first automobile, I was more interested in how zealous this mom felt about the appropriate age her daughter should have a phone. I was certain her daughter texted mine on a regular basis. In fact, I’m pretty sure she texted me one time to arrange a play date.

I interrupted her: “Wait, I thought she had a phone. Doesn’t she text?”

“Oh, she has her brother’s old iPod Touch, so it only works when she’s on our WiFi. It’s not like a phone.”

“Um, we gave her our WiFi password awhile back,” I sheepishly admitted. “They were doing the musical.ly app, and she needed Internet access. I was right there, but I thought it was okay. She said she is on it all the time.”

“She has our password, too,” my friend chimed in suddenly. “I guess I didn’t think about it, but she has access in our house, too.”

“And at Starbucks,” the third mom proclaimed. “The girls played Minecraft the other day, and I’m pretty sure she used their free Wifi.”

That’s when we all awkwardly looked at each other.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” I blurted out, breaking the deafening silence. “I mean, you’ve talked to her, right? She’s not on social media or anything, is she? Do you check her device?”

“I didn’t think I had to,” she admitted. “I honestly thought she was only online at home. I didn’t even know she could text. I thought since she didn’t have a phone, it would be okay.”

And that was the line right there. This mom is involved and caring. I trust her.

But we parents forget that everything our kids touch today is Web-enabled, and that means trouble.

The phone part is the least of our problems.

We think because our kids are growing up with technology, they inherently understand the rules. I often hear parents say, “I don’t know what they are doing on there,” or “I check it and they’re fine.”

Unfortunately, that’s not enough. Apps like SnapChat disintegrate messages or photos seconds after they appear on your child’s device (but long enough for a predator or bully to screenshot it.). The Vine app was designed to share short videos but is now a haven for kids to one-up each other on social media — the #FireChallenge was for real. And the Kik messenger app is a hot bed for predators attempting to blackmail young teens into sending inappropriate photos.

Unfortunately, avoiding these apps doesn’t even scratch the service. The recent trial of Michelle Carter, who was charged and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter after encouraging a former boyfriend to commit suicide via text, shows the legal consequences associated with online bullying, and Facebook is considering cracking down on minors using their site.

Merely talking to your kids isn’t enough. We must speak a language they understand. We need to show them what can happen on the devices they want so badly, the ones that are like appendages on their little hands.

And we need to do it early. Because even if you decide your kid doesn’t get a phone, someone else’s child does. They will have access to things on the bus, after soccer practice, in your friend’s minivan during car pool. The only defense on the Internet is a good offense.

Here are a few tips to show your kids how they quickly things can go awry:

+ Group Text: If you have a teenager, you know that if they turn off their device for an hour, chances are there will be at least 379 texts waiting for them. Kids love to set up group texts with their friends to chat about anything and everything. Unfortunately, this is also where a lot of bullying and bad behavior starts. Grab a few parents and show your child how a group text can go off the rails. Cut and paste someone’s response and text it to someone else, or screenshot it and post it online. The point is to show how nothing said online is private.

+ Questioning Identity. Recently my husband received a text from a friend. With my three tween daughters standing there, I responded as my husband for several minutes. I finally admitted to the poor guy that it wasn’t in fact my spouse he was conversing with, but instead me. This showed my girls that even when you feel 100 percent certain you are communicating with a trusted friend, you can never be 100 percent sure. This is one of the hardest things for young people to grasp, but it’s the most important.

+ Social Media Scare. One of my three tween daughters asked me about setting up an Instagram account, like many of her friends have. She assured me it would be “private” and that I could even approve who could see her photos. I sent a connection request to her friend from my account, who immediately approved it in about 24 seconds. Then I then screenshotted three photos and texted them to my daughter’s phone. “Private like this?” I asked. Even she was freaked out about how easy a “private” account can be shared.

+ Criminal Intent. A friend of ours recently shared that her two young boys, ages 10 and eight, commandeered her phone and took a slew of photos that showed the moons of their hammies. They then texted a few of their favorites to their 13-year-old sister. After a stern lecture, my friend showed the boys several Florida state statutes that detailed what kiddie porn is and how once you transfer these types of photos across wireless carriers it becomes a federal offense with potential jail time. While the boys shed some tears, it was clear they did not understand the legal ramifications of sexting.

+ Test Text. Not sure how your kid will respond if approached by someone they don’t know? Try a “test text.” Borrow a friend’s phone and text your child. Explain that you are a friend from college, and that you are trying to coordinate a surprise visit, then ask if you can meet them outside of their home to make a plan when your mother isn’t around to find out. Tell them you were able to get their phone numbers from a school directory.

While this may seem extreme, before you trust your son or daughter with a device as powerful as a cell phone, don’t you want to be certain – absolutely certain – that they knew what to do in situations like these? The point of the exercise is not to scare or manipulate our kids; instead, we need to educate and empower them.

There is no magic age for cell phones.

Whitney Fleming

Whitney is a mom of three teen daughters, a freelance writer, and co-partner of the site parentingteensandtweens.com You can find her on Facebook at WhitneyFlemingWrites.

Every Time the Doctor Says, “It’s a Girl!” My Heart Grows a Little More

In: Kids, Motherhood
Sisters sitting on park bench

When I’m in the grocery store with my girls, I always get comments. My oldest girls are walking near the cart with my two-year-old running up and down the aisles. “Three little girls! Wow! God bless you, Momma!” Then they look in my cart and see the car seat holding my nine-month-old. “Is that a baby boy in there?” “No, another girl!” I reply. I get a variety of responses when people realize I have four girls under the age of seven. “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!” “Going to try for a boy?” “You are truly blessed—your girls are...

Keep Reading

Raising a Child with a Severe Food Allergy Affects the Whole Family

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy looking at ice cream cone

I saw something recently that said, “It’s National Ice Cream Day today!” and I cannot stop thinking about it. Now I know that sounds silly, but as a mom of a child with a severe dairy (and egg) allergy, I must admit at times it makes me sad (and more often jealous if I’m being completely honest) when I know my son is going to miss out on another fun or “normal” thing that other kids his age are experiencing, like actual ice cream and ice cream parties. If I continue to be honest, I get jealous when I see...

Keep Reading

So You’re Not the Fun Parent…So What?

In: Kids, Marriage, Motherhood
Woman reading book while two play in background

I’m not the fun parent in our household. Of course, this comes as no surprise to me but it still stung when my 8-year-old said to me rather bluntly the other night, “Daddy’s way more fun than you.” And while the rational part of my brain knows better than to take this kind of comment to heart, my super-sensitive, highly emotional primitive brain did the exact opposite and ran with it.  Daddy is the more fun parent. I’m the stricter, more rigid, and more uptight parent. I’m not the type of parent who, in the spur of the moment, will...

Keep Reading

Mine Is the Shy Kid

In: Kids
Girl sitting on side of playground

I’m the mom of one really shy child. But not your quintessential shy kid. I don’t mean she is “slow to warm up,” because my daughter might not warm up at all. And I don’t mean that she’s only shy until she gets to know you. There are friends and family members she still hides from or won’t talk to. What I mean is my almost-4-year-old struggles so much with her shyness that it’s hard for her to interact with most people. Especially her peers. I’ve Googled more than you could ever imagine about this topic: How shy is too...

Keep Reading

In This Magical Place Called Kindergarten

In: Kids
Kids at elementary school circle time

It’s hard to put into words what happens in a classroom in the course of a year. Especially a kindergarten classroom. For many children, this is their first experience away from home, from their place of comfort and security—the place where they can always be themselves. But teachers are a special breed—especially teachers of littles. And they step into this substitute role with the biggest hearts and the most love to give. They take this unknown, intimidating place and then transform it into a magical, wondrous adventure. A classroom, a community, a family. A place where these little people can...

Keep Reading

Summer Goes by Too Fast

In: Kids
Boy lying on bench at park, color photo

To my oldest, As our summer vacation nears an end and we begin school supply shopping, I think about all the things we didn’t get to do together this summer. I instantly feel mom guilt. All the plans I had made? Only half of them done—if that. RELATED: Remember When Summer Lasted Forever? All the books I was going to read to you at bedtime? Only a couple short ones. All the creative art we would do? Maybe just one time. The fact is, I let time slip away from me. I was too focused and anxiety-ridden about work, my...

Keep Reading

Going on Family Vacation with Young Kids is Work That’s Worth It

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mom with two young kids on airplane

Our routine will be a mess. Our toddler won’t sleep in a new environment. Our baby needs all of the gear. The flight could be a disaster. I went through a mental checklist of reasons why this kind of family vacation would be hard. It was a pretty convincing list if I’m being honest. I considered throwing a pity party dedicated to the concerns I shoulder as a mother. A few days later I felt a wave of conviction wash over me. I was dreading a trip that was meant to be a blessing to our family. Any kind of...

Keep Reading

I Want To Raise Good Sisters

In: Kids, Motherhood
Four girls sitting on a rock in the forest, color photo

My current dilemma: how to teach four little girls how to be good sisters when I have no idea what I’m doing? I was an only child growing up, and a tomboy at that. It was a lonely, quiet childhood. I remember wishing for a sister, but knowing that with my single mom, it wasn’t going to happen. So, the sister thing is a big mystery to me. I’ve noticed (admittedly with some envy) adult sisters together and their inside jokes, shared history, and language known only to each other. I’ve read about sisters in books. The relationships between the four...

Keep Reading

I Don’t Just Love You, I Like You

In: Kids, Motherhood
Young boy standing at bridge, color photo

My growing child, my heart often aches when I look at how big you have gotten. You aren’t a baby anymore, you’re a whole kid. You are your own person, with your own thoughts and feelings. You have your own friendships, and interests.  Parts of me realize you don’t need me the same, but deep down I know you need me all the same. And I’m realizing, that in all of these changes, my love for you is also a like.  RELATED: Being Your Mom is the Greatest Honor of My Life Because now we can connect in a whole...

Keep Reading

Having the Tools To Parent a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder Changes Everything

In: Kids, Motherhood
Child playing with water in tube

My heart leaped into my mouth as Soccer Mom, with her matching foldable chairs and ice-cold Gatorade, glared at me. I wanted to explain how hard I tried to be a good mom, to raise a kind human, but I swallowed the words so I could vomit them at my 5-year-old son on the ride home.   Didn’t he know that pushing another child was unacceptable? Hadn’t I taught him to use gentle hands?   RELATED: To the Special Needs Mom Who Sits Alone Despite implementing the parenting books that promised me a new kid by the week’s end, I often wondered...

Keep Reading

Get our FREE phone wallpaper to encourage you as the new school year begins

It's bittersweet for a mother to watch her child grow—but you both are ready to soar.