My name is Dale Wisely. I am a clinical child and adolescent psychologist who practiced psychology for many years. I now head the Student Services department at Mountain Brook Schools in Alabama.
This little website comes out of my concern that we are giving children cell phones before they are developmentally ready and without enough consideration to the health and behavioral impact. I propose here what I believe is a sensible approach to this problem.
Since I originally put this website up, in keeping with the speed at which things change in the digital world, we are seeing a growing use of digital devices in young people, but this is quickly becoming a larger issue than cell phones. For example, among students in the K-12 school district where I work, we have seen a huge increase in young people, including elementary school students, carrying devices such as iPads and other tablet computers. After the winter holiday in 2011, we saw a flow of Kindle Fires into our students' backpacks. So, I recently updated some of the materials on this website to apply to "digital devices" rather than just cell phones.
Here's a summary of my general advice on this topic and then I have some more details.
1. Hold Out. Don't buckle to pressure too early. Maybe your child could be one of the last ones in his peer group to get a cell phone, an electronic reader, or a portable gaming machine.
2. Ease In. Rather than going from no cell phone at all, to a cell phone your child treats as his or her private, personal possession, maybe it would be better to transition in to having a cell phone over time. That's what much of the rest of this website is about.
3. Limit. Put limits on the time and setting your child can operate the device. Examples: No digital devices at meals. No phone after a certain time at night. No portable game machine or phone during conversations. Especially important, in my opinion: No phone in your room after bedtime. Depending on the nature of the digital device, consider having this rule apply to iPads, laptops, and other devices.
4. Monitor. Once your child is carrying a digital device, such as a phone or a table computer, reserve the right to take it up and inspect the contents with no notice.
5. Encourage Other Activity. One of the worries is that time spent using digital devices(or other "screen" technologies) is the time it takes away from other activities. So, it may not be enough to say "Put that phone down." Instead, we may need to provide lots of opportunities for other activities. If your child is participating in sports, playing board games with family, going to museums, exercising, and engaging in a range of healthy activity, this may crowd-out excessive "screen time."
6. Teach by Example. A command from a parent of "Get off that phone and do something healthy" will be less credible if spoken by a parent who is on his or her iPad at the time.
Wrong question. Better question: How should we, as parents, transition our child into responsible use of such devices?
This little website is in response to two things that are going on at the same time:
(1) More and more parents are giving their kids cell phones and other personal digital devices at younger and younger ages. In my opinion this is often a mistake. Because of our concerns about our children's safety, we are giving them phones before they are developmentally ready to use them responsibly.
(2) There is mounting awareness that kids can use cell phones, computers, and other wireless devices in ways that can get them in serious trouble.
(3) Time spent in front of a glowing screen is time NOT spent exercising, reading books, having face-to-face conversations, etc.
In addition to these concerns, some researchers are concerned about what we may eventually learn about the impact of cell phone radiation on developing brains and bodies.
We've all heard about "sexting," texting while driving, cyberbullying, and so on. While parents are often aware of these problems, they often want their children to have cell phones for safety or convenience. It's a dilemma. I've developed a common sense approach. It's offered free. It's customizable. Parents who think it is too strict for their child can make it looser. Parents who think it's too lenient can make it stricter. Here's a summary of the program. It is written to apply to cell phones, but you should consider whether you can adapt it for other digital devices.
Phase I. "Phasing in" cell phone use.
Phase II. When the parent feels it is appropriate to provide a cell phone to a child, he or she enters into an agreement, preferably a written contract between parent and child. This contract addresses appropriate and inappropriate use of cell phones. I've provided a free and straight-forward contract.