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Teens and cellphones: Tips for parents

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 12 2013 7:45 p.m. MST

Anna Schiferl, foreground, texts her mother, Joanna, as they pose for a photograph in their LaGrange, Ill. home. Statistics from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show that, these days, many people with cell phones prefer texting over a phone call.

Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

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The issue of cellphones and teenagers can create hot debate among parents.

Cellphone-seeking teens may argue that "everyone has one." Parents are likely to be torn between wondering if their teens are ready for the responsibility and not wanting them to stick out among their phone-toting peers.

Is your teen ready to have a cellphone? Recent articles and studies share some pros and cons, providing more insight on answering this phone question.

Pro: Teaches responsibility

On helium.com, Angela La Fon contends that cellphones teach responsibility. "Having a cellphone will not automatically instill responsibility, but it can offer the opportunity to learn responsibility," La Fon writes.

Simple responsibilities such as keeping the cellphone charged, staying within minutes or text limits, and learning appropriate ways to use phones in public places such as school are among the opportunities to learn, according to La Fon's article.

On one of her weekly ABC Action News segments, Parenting in Action, Angela Ardolino says parents should establish boundaries and limitations for cellphone use as well as consequences and rewards when appropriate. She shares a number of ideas, such as setting specific times teens can use the phone and explaining cellphone etiquette.

"Regardless of what your teen says, you are the only person who can decide if they're ready to have a cellphone," says Ardolino. "(If) you decide to bestow the privilege ... talk (your teen) through what it means and what’s expected. ... If you’re clear about what you expect in return, there won’t be any discussion later on down the line."

Con: Can lead to irresponsibility

An article on Common Sense Media addresses the importance of teaching responsibility when it comes to cellphone use.

"Cellphones give kids access to a world that's both portable and private," the article reads. "Unlike when they talk on the phone at home, with a cellphone you're not there to monitor what they're saying or sending, or whom they're talking to."

The article goes on to describe how access to a cellphone's "powerful communication tools" can be used irresponsibly. Teens with cellphones can text at any given time and cause distractions in places where they should be paying attention to something else, such as in school. Teens can also participate in inappropriate activities such as sexting, defined as "sending or receiving inappropriate pictures or messages." There's also the problem of cyberbullying, which involves sending or uploading embarrassing texts, photos or videos to websites or others' phones.

And let's not forget texting while driving. An infograph from Texting and Driving Safely shows scary-but-true statistics of texting teens. Five seconds is the minimal amount of time a driver's attention is taken away from the road when texting and driving. If traveling at 55 mph, that time "equals driving the length of a football field without looking at the road."

Pro: Safety net

One advantage to teens having cellphones is that it allows parents to stay in touch and make sure their teens are safe.

Michelle Maffei from SheKnows: Parenting points out that Sprint offers a tool called "Sprint Family Locator" that allows parents to keep track of where their teens are at all times. AT&T offers a similar service called "FamilyMap." Such services do cost extra, however.

Con: Misuse can lead to addiction

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