Putting your kid’s cell phone under house arrest

Lisa Birnbach, host of the Lisa Birnbach Show and author of The Official Preppy Handbook (bring ya back to the 80's?), shared this hack during my interview yesterday.

Lisa's kids are old enough to have cell phones, which is how they prefer to conduct most of their social planning. Privacy and all. Well, at a recent school meeting, one of the moms in attendance mentioned that she requires her kids to stow their cell phones when they get home from school, and that all social calls must be made on the home phone. Not because she wants to eavesdrop or keep tabs, but because she wants to have a point of contact with her childrens' friends. Even the basic "Hello, Mrs. Miller. Can I please speak to Johnny?" is better than nothing, and in this way she can get a better sense of who her kids are spending time with. She can also begin building her own relationships with her kids' friends, so she's more real to them than simply "Johnny's mom."

Interestingly, Lisa said that this mother caught some flak from the other parents at the meeting for being overly restrictive. Granted, my kids are still little, but I thought this sounded like a perectly reasonable idea — a clear way to set limits and to let kids know you care about their friendships and want to be involved, even in small ways.

What do you think?

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  1. Stu Mark says

    I think that, when it comes to parenting young adults, you gotta do what you gotta do. So I grimace when I hear any parent getting flack for such a benign adjustment to home life. It’s not like she’s preventing them from taking any calls, and it’s not like she’s listening to the calls or data-mining the cel phones.

    Let me say this (something I will repeat forever), Bravo to any parent who makes the effort, any effort to parent a young adult. It is incredibly easy to give in to your child’s desire to be left alone to do what they want. As it has been said, your kid needs a parent, not another best friend.

    Also, as a teenager back in the 80s, I thought The Official Preppy Handbook was hilarious!

  2. Reality Bytes says

    I find that a bit weird that she would get flak for doing that. I think it’s also a way to have a bit of a touch stone to open conversations.

  3. Robert says

    I think it’s a great idea. This is somthing that I’ll consider when my son is old enough for a cell of his own. (He’s only two, now.) The one mdification I would make is setting the cell to auto-forward to the house line when they are stowed. That way, my kid’s friends can’t just leave voicemail to be retrieved later.

  4. Shannon Bonnes says

    I think this was a sesible hack for a parent to use & why should she cop flack for using it.

    To ensure thier privacy you can always have all calls come to one phone & transfer it to a separate handset (fixed in thier room or mobile) to ensure privacy, which is a feature included in many new phone sets.

    This way you have the best of both worlds, you get to know your childs friends & they get privacy for thier conversation.

    In today’s world it is only common sense to get to know who your child is talking to.

  5. Kristina says

    While I think this is a good hack, I would like to know how old her kids are. I’m wondering because it actually bothers me when I see anyone younger than 18 with their own cell phones. I know this will start a debate, and I really don’t mean to. I’m just trying to understand why a child would need his/her OWN cell phone. My husband and I, when our daughter is older, will have an extra cell phone for out child to use when he/she is driving or something like that,but I am so against giving kids their own cell phones…I’m a HS teacher and I have so many horror stories about children and cell phones.

  6. Devra says

    In a world where instant messaging, text messaging abound, I think person to person contact is crucial to continue feeling a connection with other people. Yes a cell phone allows a person to speak with another, but they are less symbolic of a “household community” than is the less state of the art “landline home phone”. But you know what? If we want our kids to feel like they have a home, having them utilize the “house phone” underscores the point that a home is a community and your friends are welcome, but aren’t gonna rock our home foundation! Bravo for this hack!

  7. Tanya Ryno says

    I believe that in general most of the comments on this site will be the same. Mainly because most of the parents visiting this site actually care about being good parents or they wouldn’t find themselves here anyway! Anyone giving flack to any parent making the effort to actually be a parent doesn’t have the time to do so themselves. Unfortunately there are parents that would rather leave their children alone as it makes their life much easier… Particularly, like most of you, I love the idea.

  8. deena says

    I have a 13 year old daughter and we got her a cell when she started middle school. She thinks it’s for her, but it’s really for us. ;) When she is at out of town sports events, I don’t have to sit in the parking lot for an hour waiting for her to get back. If she finds herself in a situation she is not comfortable with she can call me without embarrassment. It has allowed me to give her more freedom than I would feel comfortable with without the phone. And since we share the cell minutes, I see all her activity on my bill (shh, that’s MY secret)!

  9. Rob O'Daniel says

    I’m with Katrina on this.

    I’m not anti-gadget or anti-technology – heck, I work in the IT field and I love my PCs, TiVo, iPod, & other techno-goodies – but kids need time to just be kids. They need to learn how to interact with the world around them & develop real interpersonal social skills before they learn SMS, instant messaging, & multiplayer video games – all of which seem to kind of wall people off from the real world.

    I’m tentative about introducing technology into kids’ lives at too early an age. Computers & communications technologies have an exponentially-expanding domination over almost every facet of each new generation’s lives. And while that’s not necessarily all bad, I do think we need to make sure kids have opportunities to learn how to exist in the real world before we allow them them to plunge headlong into the inescapable cyber-world.

  10. Erik L says

    Great hack! However, increasingly, families are disconnecting their landlines in favor of going completely wireless. Any ideas for a hack mod to accommodate families in this situation?

  11. Andipants says

    I think the parents that were giving her flack for her awesome idea are either out of touch or simply give in too much to their kids. Fabulous idea. I will certainly be doing it myself in 13 years ;)

  12. Heather says

    Now that I am a parent, I have come to realize all the “horrible” things my parents did when I was a teenage were good parenting practices.

    My dad’s favorite saying was “when you are old enough to support yourself under your own roof, then you can do whatever you want.”

    I think lazy/lack parents are quick to citicize because they feel uncomfortable with their own parenting style.

  13. Melissa says

    I love this idea! We disconnected our landline several years ago, but have always planned to reinstate it when our daughter is old enough to stay home by herself. Robert’s idea of forwarding the cell phone calls to the landline is a good one as well. If a family didn’t want a landline, I’m sure a cell phone could be forwarded to an inexpensive VOIP phone number on the computer. That just means having a computer in a place where mom or dad might answer.

  14. oddharmonic says

    We handle our home phone traffic pretty simply — our Vonage line rings to our cell phones, but when we’re home the cell phones go on their respective cradles and all calls are picked up on the handsets for the Vonage line.

    Our six year old daughter is allowed to give our Vonage number to her friends (it’s also listed as our home number in the school directory) and my husband and I give out our cell phone as needed to other adults, but tell everyone the Vonage line is our main line so please call it first if you have multiple contact numbers for us.

    When my stepdaughter lived with us, she was not allowed to have a cell phone unless she paid for it herself so all of her calls came through the house line. We knew all of her friends that way and hosted a monthly game/pool night so the teens could enjoy themselves in a supervised setting where we could ensure neither alcohol use nor inappropriate intimacy was going on.

  15. enid says

    I think that she is absolutely spot on! Bravo for her. They are still your children and will be till the day they leave the nest.

    So shame on the other parent for giving her flack.

    Who is paying for the phone anyway. I’m sure it’s not little timmy or little sue. :)

    I don’t get this privacy thing. I mean I’m not directly in my kids face when they are on the phone but I don’t think they need to hide away in their room. Those who have nothing to hide HIDE nothing.
    I’m sure I’m going to get flack for that but this is only my opinion. ;)

  16. Stu Mark says

    To those who question kids having cel phones, I say this: My kids have cel phones and are still capable of communicating sincerely and openly with us. They don’t spend much time on their phones, as we encourage face time (in other words, we say “Hey, you’ve been on the phone with so-and-so for a while, why don’t we invite them over?”)… I think, IMHO, that parents may want to consider the value of a child utilizing *any* form of communication. Just because it uses a new technology doesn’t mean it is bad. Obviously there are limits, but if your kid is SMS’ing their feelings, it is way better than bottling them up and suffering neuroses.

    Also, giving my kids cel phones means that I can extend the perimeter of their independence, which is a valuable nurturing step.

  17. Jenn says

    My 13 and 15 yr olds both have cellphones. Prepaid, so minutes are limited. But I can call when they’re out just to say hi and see what are they up to. And they call when they leave one place and get to another. They can call or text to say practice has been cancelled or a game is delayed. I feel more connected. .I know much more about what they’re doing and where they are and who they’re with than my parents ever did.

  18. Lisa says

    At a certain age I think cell phones are an a great idea..to keep connection open..but forwarding to land line I also agree with…my son is 8, I am undecided as to what is age appropriate.

  19. Mom of 3 girls says

    I completely agree with the concept of having the kids turn the cellphone in once they arrive home. My kids have access to a cellphone for MY convenience, so I can reach them when they are away from home. Also, they do not take it to school, it is for weekend use when they are away from the house, or when they have a weeknight event to attend. For the same reason I wouldn’t allow my daughter to be picked up on a date by a boy who honks the car horn, or calls from the car for her to come out, I don’t allow her to take calls at home unless the friend calls the house phone. It is an issue of safety and respect. I used to have to take phone calls at the kitchen table, on a phone connected to the wall. Kids today can answer a wireless handset and go anywhere in the house to take a call. My daughters know that I frown upon their friends who aren’t willing to look me in the eye or who avoid calling the house for fear a parent might answer. These aren’t the kind of friends I want my daughters to have anyway. Kudos to parents who are willing to parent in this day and age!

  20. hguay@csj.edu says

    i’m sorry but why does any child “need” a cell phone? To my knowldge people survived for many decades without them, are you sending your child into the wilderness where there is no access to a phone? With very few exceptions, will a child go somewhere that if they need to call their parents, that a phone would be inacessable to them. my suggestion is to ditch the kids cell plan, buy a prepaid, and only let them use it if they are going with friends to an amusement park, or camping, or such things that make it nearly impossible to keep tabs on your child while they are under the care of people you trust.