Guest Blogger and associate Fred Rosenbloom weighs in on adolescents and cell phones.

How Cell Phones Influence Adolescent Development

I consider myself an early adopter of technology, meaning that I’m usually one of the first persons to learn about or use new technology.  With that being said, it may sound surprising that I spent the majority of my childhood without a cell phone and without the internet.  However, this wasn’t by choice or because my parents did not allow these things.  It was because I grew up in the 1980s, before the internet and cell phone existed as they do today.  Sometimes I wonder how my childhood would have been different with a cell phone and the internet, and how those things would have affected me today as a parent of two young children.

Every day, parents are faced with making important, influential, and difficult decisions for their children with regards to how much and what type of technology their children use.  Often times, these decisions are based on age appropriateness use with consideration for what the parents of their children’s peers are allowing.

Research has discovered that as children enter adolescence, around 12 years of age, they will typically ask for their own cell phone.  This is usually because adolescence is a time to develop identity, autonomy, and self-esteem, and the cell phone can be used as, and is advertised as, a technology device that can help one develop and maintain these three important aspects of personality.  Research has also determined that adolescents typically need the help and support from their parents to purchase and maintain ownership of a cell phone.  To that extent, the following is a list of what the research has uncovered about what parents might expect as they step foot into the cellular phone store to purchase a cell phone for their child.

  1. Request for A More Flexible Curfew. Adolescents who own a cell phone generally request, or are given, more flexible curfews because now they can be more easily reached by parents.  More flexible curfew contributes to autonomy development.
  2. Perhaps A Little Less Anxious. Adolescents may experience less anxiety with a cell phone as they explore their autonomy and develop their identity and peer-relationships.  This is generally because they are just a phone call away from reaching their parents.
  3. Usually A Little More Balanced. Adolescents are likely to have an easy time balancing the need for autonomy with the need for connection and support from parents.  This is also because they are just a phone call away from reaching their parents.
  4. Be Prepared for Microcoordination. Parents communicate with their adolescent children on average of four times per day, mostly about logistical concerns such as when and where parents will pick them up and when they should be home.
  5. Adolescents Like When You Answer Their Call. The more they call, the better, as it increases their self-esteem, and yours, too!  Adolescents want the autonomy to communicate with their parents without the feelings of being monitored by their parents.
  6. Adolescents Want Your Input and Support on Their Social Life. Be prepared to discuss a topic that is important to your adolescent child when they call you.  Adolescents who frequently call their parents seeking social support show higher self-esteem and report better overall communication, peer approval, and closeness with parents when calls are made to seek social support or discuss a topic.  Parents’ self-esteem is increased as well when adolescents call them for support.
  7.   Adolescent Want To Hear About Family News and Information. When parents call to check-in and update their adolescents with future plans, information, or just to check up on school work, greater communication in the family and better family relationships are formed.
  8. Adolescents Do Want Their Space, Though. Let them call you more often than you call them, and try not to monitor your child’s whereabouts via cell phone. As it turns out, frequent cell phone calls from parents to their adolescents were associated with higher levels of parent-reported family disharmony and lower levels of parental knowledge of their adolescent’s life.
  9. Adolescents Do Not Like to Be Disciplined On A Cell Phone Call.  It’s best to discipline your adolescent child at home rather than over the cell phone.  If you’ve ever seen a parent discipline a child in public and thought it was publicly humiliating for the child, the same thing applies when disciplining your adolescent via cell phone.
  10. Adolescents Can Sense Your Emotions When You Call Them. Calls from upset, angry, or scared parents have been used to predict lower self-esteem in both adolescents and parents.  If you are feeling any of these emotions as a parent prior to calling your adolescent child, perhaps take a moment to breathe before dialing their number.