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The seven deadly sins of technology

A smart parent's guide to managing kids' technology.

By Christina Tynan-Wood

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Cell phones

It usually starts in middle school: “Mom, I want a cell phone!” All of her friends have one, but is this the right time to give one to your child?

Personally, I think it's a little late. In middle school kids’ social lives fly into the fast lane. Throwing texting, sexting, conference-call bullying, and all-night phoners at them when they are dealing with puberty, a fascination with the opposite sex, a pressing need to bathe, and algebra seems cruel.

If you give your kid a cell phone before she's clamoring for one, you can set ground rules while you are still her favorite person. You can also take advantage of the phone as a safety tool. In elementary school she will happily answer when you call, appreciate your pointers on phone manners, surrender the phone at bedtime, and listen to any other guidance you think necessary. You can explain the hazards of sexting before she sends a naked photo to that boy she likes.

Of course, when your kid gets to middle school, she might throw half of what you say out the window, but some of it will stick. It’s not the end of the world if you wait till middle school — you’ll just have to talk louder and contend with more eye rolling and door slamming to get your message across.

Don’t be shy about using your cell carrier’s parental controls to limit hours of use and block inappropriate content. Keep an eye out for bullies. Take the phone away or shut down service when you need to underline your rules. And as she and her phone skills — and responsibility — grow, add features like unlimited texting, multimedia texting, GPS, and data as a reward.

The pros: Cell phones are convenient for parents and a great safety tool — texting “Come home for dinner” is easier than calling all over town.

The cons: Kids love this technology so much you may have trouble controlling it. Did I mention sexting?

The lowdown: A great tool if handled well. Just be sure to subscribe to your carrier's parental controls to back up your rules, and keep an eye on the potential hazards: overuse, inappropriate use, all-access bullying, and, of course, sexting.

Christina Tynan-Wood has written for Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, PC World, PC Magazine, InfoWorld, and many others. She currently writes the "Family Tech" column in Family Circle and blogs at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

08/26/2010:
"I find the comment about these devices being 'inexpensive' curious - $200 and up (emphasis on the 'and up')is not 'inexpensive'...well, not if you dont get paid to write for a living I guess."
08/16/2010:
"you gotta be absolutly out of your mind lady.Im in highschool and play video games, text, social network and all that for hours of the day even in school. but i have sucesfully designed my own videogame graphics and am on the verge of being a programmer you know what that meant MO MONEY MO MONEY. I have straight A's and everything, your just another protective mom who doesnt really know anything at all about what you think your talking about. send me an email if you really wanna know soomething"
08/5/2010:
"You know, as a parent, I can understand half of this article, but once you started to talk about gaming and the Internet I completely broke down. Your discussion upon gaming clearly shows that you have no foundation of knowledge in the subject. There's tons of games which cross platforms, and so forth. You even categorized WOW as a console game when the reality is co the opposite. Speaking in terms of more modern games, RPGs in particular are probably the most powerful tool in terms of learning, at least as much as any given RTS. But I completely misunderstand why a bit of violence and shooting is off put. Kids need to play games and this is probably showing the author's age here. Why let a child watch a cartoon on television? Same idea. It's for the fun of the child and it's through engaging in more mature experiences that a child will grow. Furthermore, the worst is that you completely missed the most important point that you should have enforced: That parents should be actively involved in their child's interests, in this case gaming. Furthermore, there ARE strong parental locks built into these consoles as well as timers- namely on the Xbox 360 (not the wii). The worst point you made was in regards to the Internet. You should never put a block on it. All you're doing is showing a lack of trust between the two of you. And frankly, by their late teens, these kids SHOULD have seen some inappropriate things on the Internet. This whole article is so missing the point. All it's suggesting is that you keep your kid to be your little innocent baby when the reality is that they won't be, and shouldn't be. I think a better point would be this: Be a good parent. Don't let technology raise your child. Instead, become involved. Let them browse the Internet. Let them play games. Just do these things with them as well. "
07/23/2010:
"As a parent of a 14 and 11 year olds, I disagree with allowing a middle schooler have a cell phone. There are always exceptions and I will preface that children of single parents or divorced parents may be in these exceptional circumstances as well as some others. However middle schoolers should not be in a position where an adult is not present and therefore would always have this supervision and access to phone communication. I personally think making the transition from middle school to high school presents the situation where the teenager will be in more independent situations and should have access to communicating at all times when appropriate. In addition at the high school age, they can appreciate, understand, and learn more about the responsibilities associated with managing a cell phone. Thank you"
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