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Now for parent/child contract

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How do parents balance a child’s social and safety needs with the dangers that come with unrestricted access to a communications device? LAURENCE SEBERINI proposes a clear contract with the child.

‚I need a cellphone, mom/dad. All my friends have one, and I am the only one who can’t chat on BBM. I feel so left out and I am going to lose all my friends. I don’t know why you won’t get me one, its soooooooooooooooo much cheaper chatting on BBM and you will save so much money because I will use less airtime.‚

Does this sound familiar? As a parent, you are most definitely not alone. Every child/teenager in South Africa wants a cellphone and most probably a BlackBerry (in fact, most adults would fall into this category as well). The reasons vary from ‚cheaper chatting‚ to ‚so many functions‚ to ‚fitting in with the crowd‚ . Whatever the REAL reasons, the fact remains: Owning a cellphone or, specifically, a Blackberry in South Africa is the passport to some sort of cell phone Nirvana. Most BlackBerry owners in South Africa ‚ unlike the North American market ‚ will sing the device’s praises from morning to night. Very few phones enjoy the owner loyalty that a BB does, and the BB following in South Africa can be compared to the herd-following tweens obsessing over Justin Bieber.

Let’s face it: The BlackBerry is an incredible device! Apart from doing all sorts of pretty cool tricks, it really DOES keep chatting costs low with the BlackBerry Messenger app. A recent study has also shown that instant messaging and online chatting are not nearly as negative as what initial studies reported. A leading researcher from the University of California found that instant messaging and social networking sites encourage youngsters to express themselves, and that these services are in fact tools that assist with effective communication. It stands to reason that a lot of the negativity surrounding smart phones, and specifically Blackberry devices, is unwarranted. So yes: there are many real benefits in store should you decide to give your child a cellphone, but there are also, understandably, many real fears. So, to buy or not to buy? Some parents make the decision on behalf of their children, while others consult with their children. A variety of factors come into play, and many parents simply feel overwhelmed ‚ often due to the fact they might not be up to date with technology. In order to find the ‚happy’ medium, it is important to realise that, while you will make the final decision, your child should also be part of the process and discussions. One method of remaining in control as a parent is to get your child to realise that owning a cellphone will mean some responsibility and accountability from their side ‚ in terms of use, abuse and etiquette. Should you decide to purchase a cellphone for your child, we suggest that you present him or her, regardless of age, with a ‚mini contract‚ to sign. This contract serves as a commitment to responsible ownership and usage. By signing this, your child agrees to certain terms and conditions of use, and also accepts responsibility for any contraventions.

Remember, if you are paying for the phone, contract or airtime, not only can you call the shots, but you have a moral obligation to do so.

A model contract is provided on the Cellphone Safety web site (http://www.cellphonesafety.co.za) web site. You can download it directly from here (http://www.cellphonesafety.co.za/uploads/3/6/3/1/3631531/parent_child_cellphone_contract_version_1.doc), amend it as you see necessary, and print it out for your child to sign.

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