Teens & Young Adults

Get with the Plan

Is your child with ADHD begging for a cell phone? What to consider before letting her go mobile.

Three teen girls with ADHD on cell phone
Three teen girls with ADHD on cell phone

Linda, a teenager with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had waited her “whole life” for a cell phone. Her mom and dad recognized that overuse could be a problem for their impulsive teenage daughter, so they carefully reviewed cell-phone rules and limits before giving Linda a phone.

Everyone was happy…until the bill arrived, with hundreds of dollars in charges for overtime and text messaging. Be careful, parents. This could happen to you.

When confronted with the bill, Linda explained that she hadn’t understood the part about instant messaging charges, and had no idea she had chatted for hours. After setting up a repayment plan, Linda and her parents agreed to switch to a new plan that included unlimited minutes during certain hours, and to block text messaging.

Ready for a Cell Phone?

It is not surprising that Linda had trouble reconciling the cell-phone rules with her behavior. ADHD traits make self-monitoring — of time, money, needs — a difficult task. By now, you’ve probably learned that you need timers, charts, cues, and routines in the household to keep your teen’s life on track.

Similarly, external monitoring will be necessary to keep cell-phone use under control. To avoid finding yourself in the same situation as Linda’s parents, here are some points to consider before buying a cell phone for your son or daughter.

Decide on features
Safety is often the primary reason parents buy their child a first cell phone. You want to be able to reach your middle-schooler to discuss pick-up times. And parents will feel better about a teen’s driving if she has a mobile phone with her in case of an emergency (flat tire, getting lost).

If the phone’s meant to serve a utilitarian, rather than a social, function, consider one of the phones designed just for kids. Most allow users to “speed dial” only a handful of pre-programmed numbers.

Set limits
Some kids with ADHD are quick to make promises, then impulsively text their best friend 50 times a day. In addition, some youngsters I’ve seen insist on calling classmates who clearly do not want their calls.

Taking “No” for an answer can be tough for a child with ADHD who has trouble picking up on social cues. If impulsivity is one of your child’s challenges, you can block certain features (like caller ID) or numbers.

Monitor
Children with ADHD have trouble connecting current behavior with long-term consequences. The time an ADHD teen spends on the cell phone in the morning may have been forgotten by the evening. Most plans give you the option to call a certain number to check your remaining monthly balance of talk time. Get your teen in the habit of checking this each night.

Whatever you decide in terms of phone use, remember one problem that’s common to almost everyone with ADHD — losing stuff. Give your child strategies for hanging onto her new phone — always putting it back into a certain pocket, for instance — and look into insurance for loss or theft. Chances are, you’ll need it.

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