All gas, no brakes, holding the keys to a Lamborghini.
While an exaggerated oversimplification of what it means to be a teenager with a smartphone, that image is a good one to keep in mind when helping your child manage his or her phone use. With digital footprints lasting essentially forever, colleges and employers increasingly monitoring profiles and activity, and the likelihood of making a mistake or four, today's youth face the daunting challenge of having to be mature and responsible before they are, well, mature and responsible.
Curious, needing to work efficiently, holding the keys to the Library of Congress.
Neither an exaggeration nor oversimplification, that image is another good one to keep in mind. Whether databases or Google Scholar, today's online resources put the libraries of not just the United States but the entire world at students' fingertips. Moreover, group chats empower students to collaborate anywhere and anytime – it's class discussion in the palm of their hands.
Either way, when deciding what guidance to provide, it is important for parents and guardians to see that iPhone or Galaxy as the double-edged sword it is. Unrestricted, unlimited, and unmonitored access will cause problems, but so too will no access.
Cognizant of those bookends, parents and guardians have to find the balance that is right for their child. Whatever the balance, though, communication is essential. Sharing understanding of the power and pitfalls allows a family to set meaningful expectations. (If you want to make those expectations more formal, try this contract.)
FA's "contract" is the annually read, discussed, and signed Acceptable Use and Internet Safety Policy or AUISP, which details approved phone uses and outlines and warns against unapproved ones. Beyond the AUISP, our overall approach provides for highly limited access in the Middle School to increasingly open access in the Upper School.
We are mindful of the potential impact of too much screen time, but we concluded years ago that it's better to help students learn to navigate what has become a flood than to pretend the flood doesn't exist. At the same time, we concluded more years ago that getting students involved in curricular and extra-curricular activities is the best antidote to isolation, whether it's technology-induced or not.
So, if you are picking your 7th-grade daughter up at 5:45 p.m. after a day of classes (during which she was not allowed to use her phone) followed by practice or rehearsal (during which she was not allowed to use her phone) and she is headed home to dinner around the kitchen table (during which she will not be allowed to use her phone) followed by an hour or two of homework, rest assured that twenty minutes in a group chat followed by some (not actually funny) cat videos is no cause for alarm.
As the parents of three – the youngest with no phone but access to an iPad, the middle only recently acquiring ownership of an iPhone, and the eldest with two years handling experience – Maria and I have found that, as annoying as it may be, there simply is no substitute for constant monitoring, frequent reminders, and occasional confiscations. Otherwise, we follow only one hard and fast rule: no phones at the dinner table.