[MOTHER OF INVENTION] The Cell Phone Battle: Parents: 3, Kids: 0

Rita Mauceri

My kids just started middle school and still do not have phones of their own. As you can imagine, this is a huge, unforgivable bone of contention. Over the last few years, there has been begging, outrage and attempts at parental peer pressure, none of which have worked to convince us that they actually need phones. Unfortunately for them, if they ever need to reach me, one of their friends has a phone within easy reach.

The truth is, as they saunter towards teendom, I would like to get them phones. I’d like them to be able to communicate throughout the day and vice versa. I’d love to see them become capable of self-regulating, which means not overdosing on gaming or getting into long-winded group chats. But then I look around and notice that most adults aren’t terribly good at self-regulating, so it’s a lot to expect from a child. Tech is an addiction we’re all fighting.

There are, however, a handful of parents who are winning the tech battle — or at least staying in the game. A kid’s phone may be smart, but sometimes moms and dads are even smarter.

Recently, I was entertained and encouraged by several stories of forward-thinking parents and their genius ways of taking back control in the digital age.

One of my favorite sites, Scary Mommy, profiled an enterprising British dad, Nick Herbert, who became frustrated when his son wasn’t responding to his texts. The solution? He created an app that shuts down your kid’s phone until he or she answers your text. ReadASAP “sounds an alarm and takes over the phone’s screen, all but ensuring that any call-screening, potentially misbehaving teens have no choice but to answer.”

Another dad, youth minister and father of three Bert Fulks, received a lot of praise and press when he devised something called the “X-Plan” for kids. The idea actually came not from his own children but his work counseling formerly-addicted teens. “I asked these kids a simple question,” he writes on his blog. “‘How many of you have found yourself in situations where things started happening that you weren’t comfortable with, but you stuck around, mainly because you felt like you didn’t have a way out?’” The answer was all of them. The solution was to give kids a simple way out if they found themselves stuck somewhere they felt unsafe. All they had to do was text “X” to a parent or helper. “The one who receives the text has a very basic script to follow,” Fulks explains. “Within a few minutes, they call Danny’s [the kid’s] phone. When he answers, the conversation goes like this:

“Hello?”

“Danny, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.  Be ready to leave in five minutes.  I’m on my way.”

But my personal favorite is Heather Steinkopf who seriously outsmarted her 18-year-old daughter, Kaelyn, after being lied to one too many times. When the girl was supposedly spending a Friday night with her friend Stevie, her mom asked for visual proof. She sent Kaelyn four separate photo requests, each with a different setup: “Send a selfie of the two of you both giving me a thumbs up,” “With the light on,” and so on.

I’m still not quite ready to dive into the world of phones with my three middle schoolers. But I’m sure the time will come soon enough, and when it does, I hope I have what it takes to stay a step (or two) ahead of my crafty kids and their “smart” phones.

 

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