Why an Open Phone Policy with Your Kids Is a Really Good Thing
If you’re a parent like me, you send your kids off to school by making sure they’ve completed their assignments, are ready for the day’s test, their lunch is in their hand, you tell them to have a good day and you seal it with a kiss.
You go about your workday, and likely after school, tutoring, sports or other activities, you see them 8-10 hours later (depending on their age). You ask how their day was and you get the inevitable “fine”. You may share stories about your day and ask them questions to get them to share with you more about their day than just “fine.” You talk, laugh, tell them you love them, give them a hug, and off to bed they go. The weekends are filled with lots of quality time. You feel like you’re an in-touch parent and that you know what’s going on in their lives.
Based on my experience as a parent, and as a professional that helps families, a major component of your child’s social life is their phone. Unless you regularly open your child’s phone, you really can’t completely understand what’s going on in their lives.
I intentionally use the term “open their phone” rather than “snoop”. Snooping suggests you are doing something without their knowledge or permission. Opening their phones means you’ve set the expectation with your child that you have an open phone policy in your home. That means you may, at your discretion, peruse their phone logs, read their texts, log into their social media accounts and apps they use – with their knowledge and understanding that you will do so.
Opening your child’s phone, and tapping through it isn’t about being a helicopter parent. It’s not about finding out if they told you they were going to a PG 13 movie and then instead went to an R rated movie or who their new girlfriend or boyfriend is. It is about confirming they’re making the right choices and finding out if they aren’t so that you have the opportunity to intervene, parent them, and help them.
Sometimes, the only way you know you’re needed is through their phone.
The potential consequences of not having an open phone policy and ongoing dialogue with your child means you may not know things that could include:
- your child being depressed or sad
- them cutting class or not doing their school work
- your son or daughter being harassed or cyber-bullied
- your child making poor choices that could bring consequences ranging from the moderate (hurt feelings, teasing, harassment, a trip to the police department) to the severe (over exposure to pornography, suspension, arrest, suicide)
- them receiving (or sending) nudes
- your son or daughter using social media or apps in an irresponsible manner
I have always advocated for an open phone policy for all families and we have this policy in my home. While it may not be a popular one, my job and my husband’s job is to make sure our children grow up learning to do the right thing, make the best decisions, and learn from any mistakes they may make. We parents know that we should be consistently talking with our kids about their lives, their challenges, and their concerns, but let’s face it, we are all so busy and we don’t always get to have those conversations as often as we should. Also, your child may not be as forthcoming with this information as you’d like them to be.
Most teens consider their phones their personal, private space. But, as I advise parents and teens, “if it’s on your phone and you’re not OK with your parent seeing it, then it doesn’t belong on your phone.” What I have found with families is that when there is an open phone policy, there‘s usually an opportunity to discuss what’s been posted in social media, snap chatted or texted, and to talk about the unintended consequences that can result from those posts such as suspension from school, police, arrests, and loss of opportunities.
If your child is young and they don’t yet have a smartphone, set the foundation now. Let them know you’ll always have an open phone policy. If you’re a parent of a teen and you decide to implement an open phone policy in your home, be prepared for a negative response. They may even offer up not using a phone anymore at all.
Whatever their reaction, the best way to truly know what’s going on in their lives, and to be there to help them make the best choices, is to adopt an open phone policy.