Our family avoided text messaging for years. We added it to the family's plan in May of this year. Everyone used it responsibly until my older son began dating his first girlfriend in November. Their texting was out of control, they were texting once a minute or more. I am not kidding. Texting went on during dinner at home and in restaurants, and even during the homeschool day, interrupting my son's ability to concentrate on his schoolwork (no wonder it was hard to learn that chemistry formula or that algebra concept).
Also at that time, my son was going through a period of being tired and unable to wake up in the morning. Given that he is 15 and still seeming to grow taller overnight, this is not unusual. But it was not until I got suspicious and looked at the Verizon bill's texting history that I realized that even on school nights our son and his girlfriend were texting up to midnight and sometimes until one in the morning. The worse was three in the morning on a Saturday night / Sunday morning. Ah ha, that explained everything.
The mother of the girlfriend had said she wanted open communication so I contacted her. She said they had a 9 p.m. curfew (which they were not checking on) and I let her know (by emailing the text time history) that her daughter was not abiding by their family's rule. Also, I inquired about the girl texting from school, which I thought was against the school rules. I found out that as of this academic year, her public high school allows it in class after work is done, at lunch, in halls, and in study hall periods. Apparently she frequently finished her in-class work early.
My son was protective over his phone. We literally could not get it away from him, physically. We had let him always keep it in his bedroom and charge it there. (I have just learned that some families start a rule from day one to charge all phones in a kitchen or other public room and do not allow the phones to spend the night in the kid's bedrooms. I wish I'd heard that idea before.) I now wish we had that family policy in place from day one. It is easier to start off with a simple rule than to start a new rule once things have been abused and the issue is a "battleground issue".
A friend who also has Verizon told me that I could pay $5 a month for Verizon's "usage controls". This one feature lets you limit anything. At present we are only limiting texting hours, it is turned on from 3pm to 9pm on weekdays. On weekends it is open from 9am to 9pm only. They have an exception list of ten numbers you can input, in our case it is set to accept texts 24/7 from me, my husband, his brother and some emergency adult contacts.
Verizon's plan also allows any other restrictions such as shutting down phone calls. You can easily shut the whole thing off this way instead of doing the other shut down way that you pay a fee each time it goes on and off.
They also allow you to limit data, numbers of calls or other limitations.
Verizon's usage controls system is easy to navigate; you control it via the website. You do not need the phone in your hand to make usage limitations.
Personally I would rather see this feature built into the family's basic plan rather than nailing us $5 per phone to activate, but, I would rather pay this than to have a daily struggle with me demanding him to turn the phone over to me at 9pm and me handing it back at 3pm or some other arrangement. One less area to fight over is worth $5 a month to me.
By activating usage controls on the phone we have been able to help ensure our son is not tempted to misuse or abuse his phone and texting and he is able to get a decent night's sleep. (I just read that 85% of teens are not getting sufficient sleep and are clinically sleep deprived.)
Note that my son does have the ability to make actual phone calls to his girlfriend or anyone 24/7 on either the mobile phone or our landline phone. My son informs me that his generation does not talk on the phone and he would not know what to say or talk about if on a real phone call. I have been informed that only old people actually have conversations on a telephone.
If family rules are broken, one of the potential consequences is loss of mobile phone privileges. With usage controls it is easy to shut the phone down to anyone but the special people on the exception list. My son's counselor advised that we need clear family rules and clear consequences if rules are broken, so now we have a contract that he signed, so I will no longer be accused of making rules up off the top of my head or being accused of making excessive punishment consequences. (My husband is actually terrible in that regard, often giving a week's punishment for one small offense.) My husband and I are now on the same page and the contract helps ensure that out of anger neither of us will become excessive with consequences.
If you are struggling with your child or teen excessively using their mobile phone or want to ensure that they are not using it long after their bedtime I suggest seeing if your mobile phone carrier has a usage control or parental control plan.
Although my kids do not have smartphones with Internet access, if yours do, this may be even more of a reason to buy the usage control plan and shut the phone down at bedtime.
A blog reader recently asked about my sons not being allowed to learn to self-regulate if our rules are too strict and if rules even exist (when I was discussing addictive behavior on the laptop and internet). This is one example where the way we first used our mobile phone services was unlimited and it was not just misused but abused. When it became an interference to getting basic academic homeschool lessons done it was a problem. When my son's health was negatively impacted due to sleep deprivation it was a second problem. My son was unable to self-regulate. Since the girlfriend's parents were not doing anything on their end that was effective at stopping her activity we took the matter into our own hands by using usage controls with our son.
That was a long explanation of how we did actually try the self-regulation route and my son failed at being able to self-regulate. The psychologist counselor and two other of my son's health professionals agree this is a good and appropriate plan for our family. If some blog readers feel we are being too strict or too restrictive, it doesn't matter to me. We need to do what is right and best for our son and we think we are doing the right thing. As the doctors said, mobile phones for teens are a privilege not a right, and there are rules and limits that should apply, just as all things in life have limits and rules. These limits especially apply when the parent is paying for the phone and its service plan, but even when and if our son was paying for it out of his pocket. One doctor actually told us we were crazy to pay for the service and that we should make our son pay for it. How a 15 year old can do that if he is unable to legally obtain a job makes that a bit tricky.