“Why can’t I have a cell phone? Everyone else in my class has one!”
This is the complaint of every tween or teen in America who has parents still holding out on handing over the most coveted item of their generation: a cell phone.
If you’ve been delaying this new parenting milestone, no one can blame you.
The stories about online predators, sexting, and cyberbullying are scary. These are certainly reasons for parents to pause before stepping into this tricky tech terrain.
But once you’ve decided your tween or teen is ready for a cell phone, there are some important steps you can take to make sure they use it safely and responsibly. These include establishing cell phone rules for your teen and setting up a family cell phone agreement.
No, this doesn’t mean you’re being a helicopter parent or that you don’t trust them.
You’re just being a smart and tech-savvy parent who understands the real risks that come with handing your tween or teen a device that has far more power than lots of parents realize.
How to start talking to your child about cell phones
If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some resources to help make this a simple and (fairly) painless process.
Although many teens and tweens would disagree, giving your tween or teen is a privilege, it’s not something they are entitled to.
With any privilege should come some clear expectations of what kind of behaviors are required to keep that privilege. This helps establish boundaries, and although they will never admit it, kids actually appreciate boundaries.
When the rules and consequences are clear, life is more predictable for them, and you can quash the constant negotiation on such issues as screentime, apps, games, etc.
The best way to do this is by having a discussion with them about responsible cell phone use before you hand the device over to them.
To drive the points home, have them sign a cell phone contract (and keep a copy of said contract in a place you can reference often.). You’ll find a free printable one available at the end of this post for your use to make it easy peasy.
A teen cell phone contract can sound pretty formal and unnecessary, but it ensures they take the responsibility seriously. It also can alleviate a lot of parent/teen conflict in the future.
What are the basic cell phone rules parents should have
Here are some of the general rules you should put in place
1. You own the phone, so you have a right to determine how it is used.
Most tweens and teens are not paying for their cell phones or their cell phone plans, it’s mom and dad coughing up the dough for that pricey piece of technology. If you paid for it, you own it. Should they damage it or lose it, then they have to pay for the repair or replacement, or else no more cell phone. It also means that you have the right to take it away at any point if they violate your trust or the rules you set up in your cell phone contract.
2. Usage limits.
This includes both times that the cell phone can and can’t be in use as well as data usage. Many families discover soon after adding a teen or tween to their cell phone plan that suddenly they’re getting notices about data running out halfway through the month. This can get expensive, and your kids need to know how to monitor their use as well as how to connect to wifi when they are at school or other locations that offer it in order to minimize their plan usage.
Generally, it’s a good idea to have a no cell phone policy while they are doing homework and also at bedtime. Too many teens are losing sleep due to late-night cell phone use. Set up a designated spot where the phone charges overnight that isn’t in their bedroom.
Come to an agreement ahead of time about what they are and aren’t allowed to download on their cell phone. There are some really bad apps for kids out there that you don’t want on their phones. You may want to set up restrictions at first so they can’t download without your approval. Also, if they have gaming apps on their phones, be sure you are clear about in-app purchases.
Make sure your tweens and teens understand how to set up their privacy settings, both on the phone and on any apps they use. Talk with them about why guarding their privacy is so important. Many teens truly have no concept about everything that a cell phone can share about them, including personal information and their location.
Speaking of sharing, you also want to cover what is and isn’t appropriate to share via a cell phone. This definitely means photos and language used in texts, emails, and on social media. But don’t forget simpler things like providing their address, their age or what school they go to within apps or online (if you’ve given them full internet access).
Tweens and teens don’t fully appreciate that there really is no such thing as “delete” in our connected world, and information or images they share can be accessible or follow them around for their whole lives.
6. Digital Citizenship
For whatever reason, there seems to be the perception that the same standards of conduct and decency that apply in the real world don’t apply in the online world. Our tweens and teens need to be taught better. They should never say things to or about someone online that they wouldn’t be totally comfortable saying to their face. It’s also important they speak up and tell you if they see other people posting or saying things that could be hurtful to another person or perceived as bullying.
Lastly, there are times and places when using one’s cell phone is not appropriate. In movie theaters, at the dinner table or during class time at school the phone should be on silent and put away. Additionally, when someone is having a face to face conversation with them, they need to be looking at the person, not their phone.
Parents need to continually discuss cell phone usage
You may have other cell phone rules you want to add, but this at least covers the major areas of concern. Overall, it’s important to open up this dialogue with your tweens and teens.
Reassure them that you have every confidence in their ability to be responsible about their cell phone use. This is just your job as a parent to guide them and set them up for success.
Without a doubt, you can give them multiple examples of adults they know who don’t use their cell phones appropriately, and your goal is to help them to avoid that fate.
A great way to wrap up the conversation is by reviewing this teenage cell phone contract with parents. They may laugh and think it’s silly, but tell them that this is actually an adult approach. You want to make sure that there isn’t any confusion or fights in the future about expectations and consequences.
And it makes sure you stay on the same page.