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From Trampolines To Cell Phones, Why We Put Safety Nets Around Kids

Saturday, 9 May, 2020

Jana Dalby

I vividly remember the day our family got our first trampoline. It was big and bulky- made out of a heavy steel frame and a large octagon net, and boy, could we jump high!  This was in the 90’s when trampolines were still a novelty. Every summer morning thereafter, as soon as I ate my Marshmallow Mateys, I would hurry outside to soar as high as I could, practicing front flips and backflips, playing our infamous trampoline tag and enjoying the rush of high flying.  

Through the years, and I’m sure many broken arms and legs later, trampoline standards have changed.  We still want our children to enjoy the high bouncing rush and burn off energy- but we now wisely protect them from the possibility of flying off by enclosing the trampoline with a safety net. 

The same principles of careful intentional parenting apply to the task of giving a child a cell phone, even though the “injuries” that can occur are different in nature.  Now instead of preventing broken arms and wrists, we are protecting them from data privacy, sleep deprivation, game addiction and the possibility of viewing inappropriate images. Does anyone else feel that somehow the broken arms seem less scary??

We have 8 children (yes that’s right) that range from age 17 to 5, and four children currently have their own devices.  I’m going to offer up some tips or cell phone “safety nets” that have helped our family through the years as we have navigated children and cell phones.

1. Turn in phones at night

The first safety net I would suggest is creating a routine where your child turns in his cell phone at night, every night.  When our oldest daughter got her first phone (an iPhone because we had no other options) she plugged it in each night to charge in the kitchen, and every morning I would check the messages that had come in through the night.  To my surprise almost every day, more than 30-40 messages or notifications were sent through the night from friends who obviously had their phones in their rooms and were bored and definitely not sleeping.

A study published in 2015 reported on by CNN says the following, “The team found a “strong and consistent association” between bedtime media device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality and excessive daytime sleepiness.”

It doesn’t seem like rocket science that kids who don’t have a phone in their bedroom will sleep better- and establishing this habit or standard can be challenging but it is important for the child’s well-being. 

2. Encourage kids to call people

Second, encourage kids to use their phone to call people and places.  Don’t know what time the store opens?  Have your child dial the number and ask the operator.  They want a friend to come over?  Teach your child to access the contact list to call their friend and ask them to come over and play.  The communication practice that comes from actually calling and talking to people, communicating wants or needs, and listening in return is invaluable!  It’s so much easier to hide behind a text message in an awkward conversation than to talk openly.  Encouraging your children to make phone calls and talk to real people will help them to continue to practice good communication throughout their life.

3. Don’t be a “boomer”

Whether your child has an iPhone, Samsung or a Gabb kids phone, familiarizing yourselves with the device is the third important safety net. If you feel intimidated, have your child give you the one-on-one lesson we’ve all needed! Here’s some “how to” musts: 

  • How to check text messages
  • How to access photos
  • How to see contacts
  • How to access parental controls (if the phone has them) 
  • How the parental controls work?

I have found that some phones need a large amount of parental involvement, and others, like the Gabb phone, need less because the access capability is significantly smaller. Let’s agree phones are powerful tools we are putting in our children’s hands and it’s good to just know the device. Here are a few tips to prepare your kids for their first smartphone.

4. Give Phones a TIMEOUT when needed

When I have two toddlers fighting over a toy, the toy goes in timeout- no questions asked.  The same technique works well for teens and tweens.  Remember parents, when children are in your home and in your care, you are the boss.  If you see your kids are spending too much time on their device, it’s time for the phone to take a time out.  If your child is more obsessed with a game then playing with their siblings, goodbye phone! In our home, if you “forget’ to turn your phone in at night, then the next day it stays in our bedroom. Having a phone is a privilege for kids- a tool for communication- and when kids make mistakes it’s okay for parents to give them a break from the phone, some positive teaching, and then move on and try again. 

If you read the news at all, it’s pretty obvious that kids need cell phone safety nets, just as much as trampoline safety nets- and the stakes may be even higher. I hope these tips have been helpful in your journey with kids, tweens, teens and cellphones, and would love to hear what “nets” you have implemented in your routines. Happy jumping!