I’ve got four kids, so giving advice is practically what I do for a living. But while I’m making an effort to learn more about social media and how teens use it, I’m not an expert. Luckily, I live with one.
My daughter Claire recently turned fourteen. Like many parents, we made the choice to give her a phone a couple of years ago—when she went off to middle school. Because her schedule changed almost daily this was a real benefit. And Claire’s a pretty responsible kid, so I felt like it was a safe bet to put a high-tech device into her hands. In the last three years I’ve learned a lot about teenage behavior, social media, and the iPhone. I’ve learned a lot about Claire.
In fact, it’s been an education for us both.
DO NOT DISTURB (the parents)
One unanticipated thing I learned from my daughter is the value of Do Not Disturb. Do Not Disturb is a function on the iPhone that prevents the phone from making any noise at all. Texts collect without that ever-present binging. Calls go straight to voicemail. There’s not even any low-level buzzing like when you have the phone on mute. Just good old-fashioned silence.
Claire keeps her phone set to Do Not Disturb 24/7, and she has since the day she got her phone. I love this. There are no interruptions during dinner or homework. And I value the precedent she’s set for her siblings.
I asked Claire why she chose this self-inflicted silence (and as expected, her rationale about the benefits was different than mine).
Claire said she originally altered the settings on her phone for two big reasons:
1) even if she accidentally forgot to turn the phone off before school, it wouldn’t ring or bing from inside her locker. Apparently this is an ongoing problem for both middle school kids and their long-suffering teachers
2) she doesn’t like being interrupted while she’s using her phone to watch YouTube or Netflix.
I’ll go ahead and add a third reason—one that my teenage daughter had the brains not to point out on her own—I’m a lot less likely to take her phone from her if I don’t have the constant noise reminding me that she has it. When I asked Claire about this directly, she admitted that, yes, in fact, that was Reason #1 for the original Do Not Disturbing of her phone. “It was better if you didn’t know how many texts I was getting,” she said. Uh huh.
Rules from the horse's mouth
If you don’t yet have a phone-wielding teenager, let me emphasize for you what a huge win it is to have Do Not Disturb on permanently. I highly recommend adding it to your own list of rules (with the caveat that part of its success in our house may have come from the fact that it was a self-imposed rule, not a parent-imposed rule.) I’ve started putting my own phone on Do Not Disturb during the "dinner, homework, bedtime" part of my day. It’s been a life changer. And it’s one of those all-too-rare moments where the needs of a parent and the needs of a teen come together. We must celebrate these moments where we find them.
Since I realized Claire had come up with a truly brilliant rule, I wondered what other useful insight I could get from her. The following is an excerpt from one recent conversation, edited for length and with eye-rolling removed:
What advice do you have for parents getting kids their first phone?
CLAIRE: Have older siblings follow younger ones on Instagram or other social media networks. I can keep an eye on Ella and Will (her 12-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother), and they’ll like that better than having you follow them. If I see something they’re doing that’s maybe not okay, I can talk to them about it and tell them why.
MOM: What if there aren’t any older siblings?
CLAIRE: I’d be open to hearing advice from, maybe, a babysitter? That might be a good option, too. I think kids are always more open to hearing advice from other kids than from adults.
What do you think about having rules like when and you can use your phone, what apps you can have?
CLAIRE: I think it makes sense for parents to have some sort of rules. It’s probably easier when they make the rules right when their kids get their phones for the first time. Also, rules that apply to kids should also apply to parents. If we have to put our phones away while we're doing homework and having dinner, then you and Dad should, too.
MOM: That's a good point.
What about having rules that change as kids get older?
CLAIRE: Yeah, that’s a good idea. I do think that parents should trust their kids. So maybe if the rules change as kids get older, or as kids do things that prove they’re trustworthy, they can have more freedom.
Any other thoughts?
CLAIRE: I think you should let me take my phone upstairs when I go to bed. Then I can use it as an alarm in the morning and you won't have to wake me up for school.
So there you have it. Good advice from someone who knows. And proof that if you don't have any family rules for phone usage your kids will totally take advantage of you.
Here are some other good thoughts on social media, straight from the teens who use it most: