Limiting Children’s Cell Phone Use


I remember my excitement the day I got my first smart phone two years ago. I couldn’t wait to show my two granddaughters all the fun apps we could play on it. My granddaughters were 9 and 5 and immediately wanted to change my wall paper and ring tones. The older one deftly maneuvered her way around the settings as if she’d owned one all her life. We downloaded half a dozen educational apps and began playing them. Little did I know that phone would eventually become a major source of conflict for me just as so many parents have to face limiting their children’s cell phone use.

Technology vs. Real Experiences

My granddaughters are home-schooled and their curriculum is based on the Waldorf education method which eschews technology. When my daughter first embraced Waldorf education, she explained that it’s important for young children to make contact with real people and real environments in order to build a base of real experience. Overuse of technology takes away time from real world experiences such as reading books, creative play and being outdoors in nature.

But she saw how eager the girls were to use my phone and  reluctantly agreed to let them play with it for 15 minutes each. My challenge was enforcing that time limit because I soon discovered that those phone apps were addictive and the girls didn’t want to stop after just 15-minute intervals once a day. They begged and pleaded with me for more time and being the indulgent grandma, I always had a hard time saying no.

I felt very conflicted because I hated to deprive them of the fun they were having, but I also wanted to respect my daughter and son-in-law’s rules. I’ve been impressed with the educational path my granddaughters have followed. Their parents have done an outstanding job of providing them with a wealth of educational opportunities through the home school community. The girls are ravenous readers with vivid imaginations and active curious minds. They are both very outgoing, sociable girls who love meeting new people. I enjoy engaging them in conversation and just observing how their minds work.

Enforcing the 15-Minute Rule

Over the past two years since I first got my phone, I’ve seen more and more young children using phones and hand-held tech devices. It’s become harder and harder to keep technology at bay and I’ve seen the girls do a little more texting on their parents’ phones. Whenever we got together for visits, my daughter reminded me that the 15-minute rule for playing with apps was still in place.

Recently, I upgraded my phone and the excitement started all over again. When my granddaughters came to visit, they couldn’t wait to get their hands on my phone. But now a new rule was in place: no more playing with apps on my phone. Oh, what a dilemma for this grandma! What was I to do when temptation was just sitting there? And even more challenging, an 11-year old cousin who was visiting had her own iPhone 6!

The power struggles escalated and I became more conflicted about what to do. Finally, I hid my phone and took a firm stand: no more playing with my phone. I had leverage: If they wanted to go to the school book fair and the American Girl store, they would have to obey the “no phone” rule. They stopped pleading and off we went to the book fair. What a transformation! They each selected a dozen books and immediately started reading them on the ride home. For the rest of the visit, they were perfectly content to read, and the tension disappeared.

Finding a Happy Medium

I understand the rationale for not over-using technology because it truly can become addictive. So how do you limit your grandchildren’s use without conflict? If you have any solutions, I’d sure love to hear them.