Is This Normal?

Is this Normal?

When should we give your child a cell phone?

Q: Our 13-year-old daughter does not have a cell phone, not because of expense, but because we don’t think she needs one. But all the girls in her social group have phones. She has been really upset lately, saying her friends are leaving her out of things because they can call and text one another but not her. I look around and see a lot of other kids in middle school with phones and I wonder if we’re just weird parents who are ruining our daughter’s social life. Are we?
— Portage Dad

A: Parenting teens in a world where technology is increasingly accessible presents a lot of choices that we must make as parents about limits and monitoring technology use and content. This is no easy task for a parent!

As parents, we must consider both the risks and the benefits of teenagers having access to cell phones, which also puts social media outlets literally at their fingertips. It sounds as if you’ve weighed these pros and cons and made the decision to not allow her to have a cell phone, but you’re wondering if that is the correct decision.

While it is true that cell phones and access to other technology is a privilege, not a right of teens, there are some important factors to consider before providing your teen with a phone:

  • Some studies show that more than a quarter of teens report being bullied over cell phones or cyber-bullied on social media. We need to make sure to talk to our teens about bullying, standing up for others and how to stand up for themselves.
  • Technology creates many “spaces” that are unmonitored and unsupervised by adults, and it’s important for parents to have access to their teen’s technology so they can appropriately monitor and supervise his or her activity.
  • Human brains continue to develop until they are 25 years old. Teens don’t have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps with decision making and impulse control. Teens need to be given rules and limits on technology and be aware of the risks and consequences of poor decisions.

Regardless of if and when you choose to provide a cell phone or other technology for your child, ultimately the decision is yours, as the parent. As with any decision you make, having an open conversation with your child about how you came to the decision and allowing them to ask questions and understand where you are coming from can help build trust and open communication and help them learn how to make decisions in the future. Even if they don’t agree with your decision, you can continue to build open communication and a positive relationship with them through this conversation.

Many families find it helpful to discuss these and similar issues in family therapy because there is a neutral space and a neutral person assisting to guide the family through problem solving particular issues. If you try to discuss this with your daughter and there is not resolution, you may find it helpful to find a family therapist to help restore the relationship and peace in your home.

Why is my son so worried about money?

Q: My 8-year-old seems obsessed by our family’s finances. Like many families, we live paycheck to paycheck, but we try not to talk about money around our kids. But every month my son asks if we have enough money to pay the bills. He was really sick this winter and didn’t want to go to the doctor because “it costs money.” And he wouldn’t tell me he was wearing shoes that were too small because he didn’t want us to spend money on new ones. How can I help him not worry so much?
— Kalamazoo Mom

A: It sounds as if your son has picked up on the fact that there is some financial strain in your household, even though you haven’t discussed it with him. Kids can be so perceptive! A child may overhear adult phone conversations, see a bill lying out or take an off-hand comment out of context.

It is really important that your son hear from you that you are paying the bills and taking care of all of the financial things and that he does not ever need to worry about how and when things are getting paid because you are taking care of it. That assurance can help to start putting him at ease that he doesn’t need to worry about “adult stuff.”

Something you may want to consider is how you talk about money and affording certain things. Instead of saying “we can’t afford that right now,” you could simply say “not today,” or “we don’t need that right now.” Another thing you want to be careful about is who you are discussing your finances with and whether little ears are listening. Even if you aren’t having a conversation with your child about finances, he may hear from another room if you’re talking about it.

It may be helpful to have a conversation with your son from time to time about things he might need or want. If he would really enjoy a new toy, for example, you can talk to him about saving up money he might get from a birthday or holiday and begin to teach him about money management in a fun way so he doesn’t view money as being only a stressful thing.

You can also talk with him about his worries and what he can do to calm down when he feels anxious. Ideas such as talking to a trusted adult, drawing pictures or writing about his worries, teaching him some breathing techniques or teaching him ways to soothe himself could be helpful. If he seems to have a lot of worries or anxieties, you may want to find a counselor or therapist who will work with you and him together on working through those worries so he can learn how to cope and you can learn additional ways you can support him.

Questions answered by Erin Praedel, LPC, LMFT, a couple and family therapist at Family & Children Services in Portage and Kalamazoo.

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Regardless of if and when you choose to provide a cell phone or other technology for your child, ultimately the decision is yours, as the parent. As with any decision you make, having an open conversation with your child about how you came to the decision and allowing them to ask questions and understand where you are coming from can help build trust and open communication and help them learn how to make decisions in the future. Even if they don’t agree with your decision, you can continue to build open communication and a positive relationship with them through this conversation.

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