Why have cell phones become today’s back-to-school essential?

There are dozens of reasons parents and kids need to be able to connect during the school day.

For starters there’s the matter of “forgotten items.” You know, they call and beg you to drop what you’re doing to deliver … the homework they need now, the sports gear they’ll need later, the musical instruments the band instructor inspects daily, the library book they needed to return a week ago…

For forgotten items, they need a cell phone.

Then there’s the “I don’t feel well,” “My braces broke,” “They made us run in gym and now I think I have heat stroke” stuff.

And of course there’s the “I forgot to tell you I’m going to a friend’s house after school,”  “I need to stay late so I won’t be on the bus, can you come get me later?” and the inevitable “Can we have pizza for dinner?” communications.

For all of these announcements and requests – and many others – kids need to have a cell phone.

But that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank to get them one.  

Get your student – and yourself – a free smart phone

I know – it sounds too good to be true, but it is 100% for real.

Life Wireless offers government subsidized cellular services through LifeLine and the Affordable Connectivity Program to individuals and families who qualify. These programs are backed by the Federal government and provide you and your student with the following each month:

  • FREE Unlimited Talk & Text
  • FREE 15GB Data (+ more data for California residents)
  • FREE Smartphone (or bring your own)

If you’re unemployed or if you participate in a government benefit program such as SNAP, Medicaid, Federal Public Housing Assistance, SSI, or WIC, you already qualify for this federally funded free cellular service. Just think, for an investment of a few short minutes to apply and be approved, you can give your student the ability to stay in touch with you (and you with him or her!) at school, after school, and wherever their schedule takes them.

Once you’re approved for Life Wireless/Lifeline Assistance Program and then sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), you get two sources of free talk, text, and unlimited data. This means that you can split that service between two phones. And the result is that you get free cell service and a free smartphone, and your student gets free cell service and a free smartphone. You just have to remember sign up for ACP.

Things to know once your student has a cell phone.

Once your child has a cell phone it’s practically guaranteed that he or she will be glued to it, or at least attempt to be glued to it. It’s kind of understandable, particularly if they’ve waited a long time to get one. But being glued to anything – a smartphone, tablet, television, gaming system, etc. – is never a good thing. So it’s up to you to set boundaries and direct your child’s digital consumption. Of course it goes without saying that they’ll roll their eyes and give you an attitude but remember: your house, your rules. And besides it’s for their own good.

Following are a few ideas for managing your student’s screen time.

Limit the amount of time your student can be on his or her cell phone. Kids – young ones, tweens, and teens – need boundaries and it’s up to parents to set them. Maybe allow them 15 minutes before they leave for school in the morning, half an hour before homework time after school, and an hour after their homework is completed in the evening to be on their phone. Limiting screen time is of increasing importance as studies have shown that mental health issues like depression, self-harm and suicide among US adolescents and young adults began to rise in the 2010s, not long after social-media platforms and smartphones were introduced. 

Get into their business. Know who your kids’ friends are, both online and off. Know their parents, if possible. And definitely know what social media platforms they’re on, what sites they go to online, and exactly what they’re doing on those sites. It’s also an excellent idea to be friends with your child on whatever social media platforms they are on: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. This way you can keep an eye on the user names of people who follow your child and also see if any of your child’s videos are being saved far too many times. Disturbing user names and videos that have been saved thousands of times are enormous red flags that require immediate parental involvement. Your child might not like being “friends” with you online, and you might hear, “You don’t trust me!” but stay strong and vigilant. There are, sadly, lots of parents out there who wished they had known who their kids were interacting with and what sites they were on.

Look into those apps. There are literally thousands of apps that tout how educational and beneficial they are for kids, but are they really? There’s little research to back those claims. Make sure you know what apps your kids are using and even try them yourself. For additional guidance, check out associations like Common Sense Media. They offer reviews that can help you decide if an app is or isn’t appropriate for your child and find others that are. Another great resource? Other parents and your child’s teachers.

Set the example. Consider ditching social media or limiting your own use to no more than 30 minutes a day. Your kids may not follow your lead immediately, but give them time and spend the time you would have been on your phone doing things with them and others in your community. Real life friendships offer deeper levels of well-being than any friendship struck up online and spending more time with your kids is always the best investment.

If you have little children or grandchildren… Remember that little ones learn best by communicating face to face. Talking back and forth in a face to face conversation is critical for language development and learning to read social cues. They can’t get those skills from gaming or watching a show or movie. Two way communication is the key to strong language skills. And while in person is best, chatting with parents, grandparents, older siblings or far flung family members via FaceTime or Zoom works too and goes a long way toward helping kids become good communicators and students.

The importance of play. On the weekends, during school breaks, and over summer vacation, set limits as to how much time your child can be on the phone. Otherwise, frankly, they’ll be hunched over scrolling away for hours at a clip.  We know a woman who gives her kids an hour of screen time in the morning, another hour after lunch, and two hours in the evening to be on their phones or gaming systems whenever there’s no school. Other than those times, they need to be involved in unstructured playtime. That can be running around outside, reading, writing, pursuing a hobby, practicing a musical instrument, daydreaming, etc. All of these activities – including daydreaming – stimulate creativity. If you have very young children or grandchildren, daily playtime needs to be a priority.

Make certain areas and activities tech-free. No cell phones or tablets at the family dinner (breakfast and lunch, too) table and in restaurants. Same goes for family gatherings and social gatherings including things like church services. Keep televisions out of your child’s bedroom and resist the urge to have the television on as “background noise.” Create a cell phone station in the kitchen or other easily accessible common area where phones and other electronic devices can be charged overnight. The last thing you want is the light from a smart phone or tablet interrupting your child’s sleep or tempting your child to use them into the wee morning hours. If you don’t already have these “regulations” in place, it will take your kids time to get used to them but – hang in there. Studies show that the results of making these changes are more frequent and better family time, better sleep, and better eating habits.

Get in on their act. Play video games with your kids. Watch a show or movie with them. Doing these things promotes social interaction and bonding. It also gives you a chance to share your own life experiences and encourage good sportsmanship. So get down on the floor, grab a controller, and let the games begin. Your kids will think you’re the coolest. And that kind of connection improves trust and honest communication. Something you’ll value greatly when your child enters high school.

Talk to your child about the realities of online privacy. Unfortunately, most teens – and even many adults – think that using a social media platform’s privacy settings means their words, photos, and videos are private. Far from it. Anything and everything your child posts instantly becomes part of his or her digital footprint – and anyone can access it. Colleges, future employers, clubs or associations they might one day like to join can and do find it all. And that includes photos sent while sexting. Your child might not post those images to a website or platform, but the mere act of sending them to someone means that photo is forever “out there,” unable to be deleted or removed and thus able to be found. Encourage your kids to think before they post or sext and to come to you if they make a mistake. Let them know that, while you don’t condone that kind of behavior, you will be there to help if necessary.

Talk to your child about online predators and sex offenders. These bottom feeders are everywhere. Social media platforms. Chat rooms. Gaming sites. Websites designed to look like gaming sites or online stores, etc. They prey on kids who appear, by virtue of their posts, to be vulnerable. Depressed, lonely, feeling alienated, bullied, abused in some way – kids opening themselves up about these and other emotions are the siren call to sex offenders and sex traffickers. The best thing your child can do is not post these feelings anywhere online. Instead, encourage them to come to you to talk or, if they’re too embarrassed, to seek the counsel of a trusted adult. A teacher, coach, grandparent, the mom or dad of their best friend. Kids this vulnerable need real help and posting on social media can only get them hurt or lead them to hurt themselves.

Posted 2 weeks ago
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To obtain Life Wireless service potential subscribers must meet certain eligibility requirements such as receiving governmental assistance or a household income that is 135% or below Federal Poverty guidelines for a household of that size, or the percentage guideline for your state. The specifics of what determines a potential subscriber's eligibility are specific to each state. Life Wireless service is limited to one per household, and cannot be combined with any other Lifeline offering.