Is Your Smart Phone a Parenting Tool?

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“Remember when flip phones were cool?” My daughter Ava (13) asked me this morning. I laughed. It wasn’t that long ago when I was devoted to one. But it’s hard to imagine now. The idea made us both giggle.

“Now,” She said. “I have this awesome screen, GPS, streaming music and Netflix. I could write a novel on it!” (She does actually use her phone to work on her novel. She has a Windows phone and it has a Microsoft Office app that syncs with Office on her computer. So she can make quick notes whenever an idea strikes.)

Her imagination started running with the idea of how smart phones would change some of her favorite stories.

“If Buffy (as in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) had this phone, she would probably have gotten her friend Willow (the show’s geek) to create an app that used GPS to track the vampires in real time. She could probably even have remote-detonated something to kill them.”

We ran with that image for a while. Apps with portals to other dimensions. Apps the vampires would develop in response to Willow’s app. And so on.

Her point, of course, was that we – and any fictional characters she would create -- use our smart phones for everything. And that made me think of a study I saw recently from Lookout Mobile Security about how parents use smart phones as a parenting tool. (I’m sure if Buffy’s mother had used a cell phone with GPS to keep an eye on her daughter, she would have put a stop to all that dangerous, late-night vampire chasing.)

Here are some interesting numbers from that study:

  • 20% of dads and 35% of moms use phones to send kids messages of love & affection
  • 23% of parents use their smartphone to communicate with teachers and administrators
  • 8% of parents use their smartphone to issue warnings and punishments to their kids
  • 43% of parents use their smartphone to keep kids entertained
  • 42% of parents consider their smartphone the mobile command center of the family
  • 27% of parents are mobile shopping and purchasing items from their smartphone
  • 41% of parents use their smartphone to coordinate grocery lists and errands

I do all of those things with my phone. But one number there surprises me. Only 8% use their smart phone to issue punishments and warnings?

I rely on my smart phone – and my kids’ need for a phone – for that! How does everyone else get their teen to do chores or homework?

My son (16), for example, tends to let homework and studying slide till the last moment. And, often, that moment is too late for his teachers. He’s a procrastinator. So I use his phone to move up his deadlines to now. I log onto his school’s online grading system every day. His teachers at the moment are pretty good about updating that daily. And as soon as his grades slip below a level I consider acceptable, I call the cell phone carrier and suspend his service. (I set the bar pretty high, actually, because he wants to go to college and he has some past mistakes to make up for. But I told him where the bar was on the first day of school.) About a minute later, his service stops.

This doesn’t get me out of paying the bill. And it doesn’t get me out of my contract. But it does shut off his service. No more calls, texts, or data. And that gets his attention. And, as a result, we have been spending a lot of time together at the homework table while he catches up. Every day his grades are creeping closer back up to the As he needs. And when he gets there, I will call and turn his service back on. My carrier’s operators are all amused by this and tell me they (or sometimes their parents) do the same thing. So I’m surprised that it’s only 8 percent of us who use that incredible effective tool as a carrot and stick. What is everyone else using?

Lookout offers a complete PDF guide smart phone guide for parents of teens and tweens. It’s free.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com.