Cell Phone Etiquette Every Kid Needs to Know to Avoid Becoming That ‘Annoying’ Kid

My older daughter has been begging for a cell phone of her very own ever since she first laid fingers on a Smartphone. But now that the day when she gets her beloved phone is practically upon us, I don’t want her to become one of those annoying kids who texts people who are in the same room with her or freaks out when her BFF isn’t immediately answering her FaceTime call. Here’s what I’ve been doing to lay the groundwork for a good start with her cell.

1. Situations where her phone is not appropriate
We’re our kids’ biggest teachers, so if we sit with our noses buried in our phones for hours on end, keep our cell phone on at restaurants or movies, or worse, text while we’re driving, our kids are going to pick up on that. “Modeling good cell phone behavior is the most important thing,” says Devorah Heitner, PhD, the founder and director of Raising Digital Natives. “And it’s not just about pointing out what you don’t do. You should also point out positive examples, such as ‘I like how we all unplugged for game night.'” So I’ve become very conscientious about declaring cell phone free times, and making sure that the cell phone is buried deep in my purse whenever I’m driving, so I’m not tempted to take a peek at red lights.

2. How to avoid becoming a nuisance
We all have our personal cell-phone pet peeves. (Mine is people who fail to shut off their phone properly during a movie or performance—or who keep texting in a darkened theater.) But we need to alert our kids to all the common cell phone-related infractions, so they don’t annoy everyone around them. I’ve already told my kids that their phones don’t need to be on 24/7, and that they should definitely be off or silenced in theaters, libraries, and other quiet places. Face to face interactions take priority, so I should never see them and their friends sitting together all huddled over Smartphones. And of course, private business should be private, so they should take personal phone calls somewhere other than the middle of the aisles of Justice.

3. Patience when corresponding with others
In our on-demand, instant gratification world, our kids aren’t used to waiting for something they want. (I know my kids simply can’t wrap their mind around the fact that when I was a kid, the whole family shared a phone and you couldn’t leave a message if no one was home.) So a common newbie texting mistake is to keep texting a person who isn’t getting back to them—and it can be pretty annoying to come back to a phone with 25 notes waiting for you. “We need to teach kids not to text and text and text again when a friend doesn’t respond right away, and to not assume that it means they’re mad at you,” Heitner says. “Explain to them that someone’s not always sitting there waiting for your text—they might be eating, doing homework, or at soccer practice. That behavior is one that most of the kids really complain about from their friends, though a lot of them do it themselves.”

4. Messages that are OK to send, and those that aren’t
Kids may not understand that anything they send via social media, e-mail, or chat can be passed around and reach people they never thought would see it. And so they really need to think carefully about anything they send, as that catty comment about a friend’s shirt could somehow make its way back to her, or that secret could get spread to the whole town. “We need to remind them that it’s not cool to share someone’s private message to you with someone else, even if other kids are doing it,” says Heitner. “And they need to assume that their friends are showing their phones to other people, so they don’t want to send anything that could be bad for their reputation.”

5. Photos that are (and aren’t) appropriate to send
Selfies and Instagram are huge with tweens and teens, so they need to make sure that they understand that not every photo is safe to share. “Before you snap someone’s picture, take a video, or forward something, ask permission,” says Crista Sumanik, Senior Director of Communication from Common Sense Media. And don’t post someone’s photo — especially unflattering ones — from your cell phone without asking if you can.

6. Conversations that should be in person, instead of over the phone
We’ve all sent or received an email that seemed angry but was really anything but. And if it’s so hard for us to read the meaning behind the language, imagine the issues that arise between tweens and teens, who aren’t exactly known as masters at diplomacy and relationships. “Don’t text ‘are you mad at me?’ as that inevitably ends up in a fight over text,” Heitner says. “Emotional issues are best handled in person.”

7. When to put down his phone for the night
Nothing good gets texted at 2 a.m., so make it a rule that cell phones get left in a central location at night, not on the bedside table. That can help ensure that you—and they—all rest easy.

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