Dear Mr. Dad: We recently got our teenage daughter her own cell phone. We held off for a long time, thinking we’d wait until she was mature enough to handle the responsibility. Looks like we were a little premature. She’s gone over the limit (mostly text messages) for the past two months, and nothing we say seems to sink in. Is there some way to cure her of this?
A: Welcome to the club. My 17-year old actually had several months with over 7,000 texts (incoming and outgoing). If you’re doing the math, that’s nearly 250 every single day. And compared to some other teens I’ve heard about, my daughter was a rank amateur. Part of the problem is developmental. Teens’ brains—particularly the parts that help deal with consequences—aren’t fully formed (and won’t be until their early 20s). But that doesn’t let them off the hook. Bottom line is that you can teach them better habits.
First, you need to understand that your daughter probably isn’t overusing her cell phone as a way of getting back at you for some terrible thing you’ve done (or she’s imagined you’ve done). Most likely, she’s just not paying attention (and with 250 messages a day, who could?). She’s just trying to keep in touch with her friends.
So grab a copy of the bill and walk her through the regular monthly charges and when the billing cycle starts and ends. Talk about what the limits are, highlight her usage, and show her what happens when she goes over. A lot of kids simply have no idea how phone bills work, and it’s possible that your daughter could be shocked into changing her ways. Or not.
Another option is to simply lay down the law—without any explanation. But that’s almost certain to be counterproductive. That swirling mass of hormones that is masquerading as your daughter, has an uncanny ability to ignore whatever it is that you feel is most important. And even if she does actually do you the courtesy of listening, there’s a good chance that she’ll decide to do exactly the opposite of what you’re demanding. After all, that’s what rebellion is all about.
Option number three is to adopt a “you-break-it-you-buy-it” and/or an “either-follow-the-rules-or- lose-your-phone” policy. She goes over the limits, she pays the difference or suffers the consequences. The problem with this approach is that you’ll have to figure out how, exactly, she’ll come up with the money. Will you expect her to get a job? Or will she be able to work it off by doing more chores, cooking dinner, babysitting a younger sibling? Either way, that could be hard with all the homework that teens usually have to do.
The last—and probably the best—option is to take some protective measures. I pay around $30 per month and everyone on my plan can send and receive unlimited texts. With that in place, you may soon discover the joys of texting. A lot of people find that the more they text, the fewer phone minutes they use. So you could downgrade to a cheaper plan. I know this sounds like you’re simply giving in to your teen. And in a way you are. But there’s no reason why she can’t kick in a portion of the charges, which will undoubtedly be a lot cheaper than making her pay for each over-the-limit text. Plus, your cell carrier doesn’t really care who sent all those texts—they just want to get paid. And you’re the one with the credit card…