Thursday, December 27, 2012

Started Using Parental Controls to Limit Texting

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.

Self Reglation?

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.


Xa Lynn said...

I'm not sure what people expect you to do when you've already given your son the opportunity to self-regulate and he has demonstrated that he cannot. Then you have to come up with a different solution - one that works for him. I'm glad this one works. As for him paying for it, does he have an allowance, and a set number of things he is responsible for paying for, plus some spending money? My kids are too young too work, too, so they are given an allowance, and will have to pay for certain things, like shampoo and toothpaste (because they don't like what I buy). I give them more than this will cost, so they also have spending money. Perhaps you could set up something similar for your sons, and simply require him to pay the Verizon fee for 6 months, and then give him the opportunity to attempt self-regulation again. If it works, he doesn't need to pay for the service anymore, and if it doesn't work, then he is back on the hook for it. Do you think that would that work for him?

Elaine said...

You son is old enough to work. Have him ask neighbors if he can walk their dogs, wash cars, mow lawns, etc. If he was creative enough to hack your computers he should be creative enough to drum up some income. I live in an upscale home in FL. Most of my neighbors are doctors or lawyers. The two homes right next to me have 5 boys 15+ in age. Not one of them works. The parents complain they lack drive, spend too much time playing video games, disrespect them, etc. The richest house on our street, an older established lawyer, has a grandson living in an apartment over the garage. This kid can't be more than 16 or 17. He WALKs to the nearby grocery store and works for his money. I see him walking there and coming home. This kid is not hanging around looking useless, smoking cigarettes and riding his skateboard up and down the street all afternoon. He works and goes to school.

I can think of a million things your son could do for money. Make him work for the things he wants. If he wants a video game he can work for it. Same if he wants a phone.

I came across your blog and I was left wondering why your son has a laptop and cell phone in the first place. I would eliminate the laptops and put a desktop in the most used family place in the house. Leave it up to the boys to work out a schedule to get their schoolwork done. No one plays a single game until all work is done. If they miss sports so what? It's their responsibility to get things done.

You mentioned a few times they were into scouting. I have a nephew that turns 17 this week and he's on track to be an Eagle Scout next year. I would talk to the leaders of the troop and let them know your son has been lying, lazy and not producing. That is not behavior in line with scouting ideals. I'm sure they could do something to put a spark under him.

I have 6 and 7 year old girls. They do chores every single morning. They feed the dogs, make their beds, pick up their rooms and help set the table for breakfast. They have a ton of fun with me but it is all contingent on getting their work done. They do ice skating, swimming, archery, zoology, guitar, etc. But NOTHING happens if they don't participate in the family chores. They can earn money by poop scooping our yard and walking the dogs with their dad. They can also clean their bathroom and do other things I feel are worth money.

I'm not picking on you. I've just been reading a lot of online commentary and meeting a lot of parents of teens, mostly boys, that just can't seem to get them motivated. I'm struck by how helpless they seem. I'm 46 so I'm old school. Kids need to work and understand the value of money. I was a babysitter when I was 12. From that point on I always found ways to make money. I learned respect for my employers, learned to talk to adults, learned how to manage my money, etc.

I wish you the best. You sound so tired and disappointed. I would be too if all this that I'm putting into my kids ends up with slacker kids. I hope that by establishing clear rules and routines now the girls will be ready for the teen years. They will work, they will have responsibilities at home and they will be held to academic goals in line with their abilities (my oldest has auditory processing disorder). I'm very compassionate but I refuse to have my girls run all over me like some of the moms I've met with kids their age.

Just my 2 cents.

ChristineMM said...

Hi Elaine,
We are about the same age. I am with you but it is a different era than when we were kids.

We live in Houston now where the grass grows all year long. Everyone has landscaping companies do the work, and it is pretty darned cheap as Mexicans do all the work, while the owners make a profit. No one needs to hire a teen. They have dependable workers under contract already.

We moved here 5 months ago and have not met the neighbors. No one goes out. They are either busy working to pay for the house or they are out doing something else or staying indoors.

Soliciting is banned in the development so no one will answer a door anyway.

The community mailbox is policed by the USPS and they barely let someone hang a lost pet sign. The last sign we hung to solicit donations for the nonprofit sport team was promptly removed by the letter carrier.

People don't want male babysitters.

My son is busy homeschooling and getting 9 hours of sleep at night plus does a 5 x a week 15-20 hour varsity sport.

I plan for him to get a real job in the real world when he turns 16 instead of under the table jobs that are hard to come by anyway. It is illegal to work at age 15 in a real establishment. I think he can learn a lot by working at a fast food joint or doing dishes like I did when I was a teen. I'd rather he have a regular job that can be scheduled around his schooling and sports when he turns 16 this upcoming summer.

In the meantime there will be no driver's permit as I want him to pay his own car insurance when he get's his license. And his own gas etc.

Deborah said...

It looks like I'm almost a decade older than anyone else on this thread...and am pleased to not be "old school". I know our route is not for everyone, but "self regulation" took the longest for my eldest, the kid who had the most external controls from the beginning, and then went to public high school, where he picked up ideas like "If you have to do the homework, you're too stupid to take the class". (As an A student in college, he no longer says stuff like that.) My most "free range" child, the youngest, is the one who displayed "self regulation" at the earliest age...and I don't think it's a coincidence, given that the oldest and the youngest are quite similar in many ways. I did not expect my kids to "self regulate" based on what I thought was logical or what I told them...the decision had to come from within. I was not pleasant to wait for my eldest to get there, but it has been worth it. I don't make my kids pay for things that are for my convenience. We have had less trouble with the texting thing than some because a) there is no cellphone service where we live and b) we have a couple of tracfones only, one stays with my eldest at college and the other goes with whomever needs it. My kids have all been able to make fairly good money pet sitting; the youngest started at age 11, but we live in an unusual neighborhood where a) almost everyone has at least one pet and b) we are on good terms with most of the neighbors. My two younger kids' friends don't tend to text much either...they haven't heard that their generation doesn't talk on land lines. We have chosen what to do and where to live based partly on the way we wanted to raise our children, so what we do would not necessarily work in every location/situation. We have also been fortunate in having family and friends who would host our children for fairly long periods (2 weeks to 3 months at a time), so that our children could a) have the chance to live in another household and discover that their parents are actually quite reasonable and even tempered compared to some and b) gain some independence in a safe setting and c) realize that going to live in the middle of nowhere was not the end of the's just a plane trip away from other loved people and places. Our lifestyle choices have involved economic sacrifice...but if we cannot make up lost income after the kids are grown, that's just how it will have to be.

ChristineMM said...

Deborah thanks for your thoughts and explanations.

Obviously before we had texting in May 2012 texting was a non-issue. Since you do not have cell service at your house's area then this is a non-challenge for you as well. If that were the case for me we'd have those trac phones as well.

Having your kids go live with others for 2-3 months at a time is very interesting. In order to do so a child or teen could not participate in regular traditional activities such as my kids do. Even with freedom with homeschooling my kid's desire to participate in things like FIRST Robotics team, Boy Scouts, and the community based varsity year round rowing team would not be possible.

We all make choices that have positive and negative outcomes. My kids would consider not being allowed to do FIRST Robotics or the rowing team or other things a NEGATIVE in their life.

Also, our experience using homeschool co-ops which started in the 2009-2010 academic school year (with a 1 year break between now and then) "rooted us" to one place and at least in part dictated our family schedule.

Deborah it seems you are living one of the more extreme alternate education lifestyles. No one I know who homeschools (or unschools) lives with such freedom, you are a rarity.

More and more homeschoolers (and unschoolers) are starting to take online classes, AP classes, and community college classes in the high school years which ties them down and rules their personal schedules...