By Jason Brick
Once your child heads into their tween years, you’ll probably hear them ask you for their own smartphone. So many kids have them now, it’s become a sort of milestone toward adulthood, and you may have thought about purchasing one for them. Afterall, it’s hugely convenient to be able to stay in touch and locate them by GPS if we need to find them. Plus, it’s a relief knowing that in an emergency they can call us or 911.
Then again, giving our kids smartphones also comes with downsides. It risks exposing our kids to screen addiction, cyberbullying, and greater access from online predators of all types.
What we need is a way to maximize the benefits of our tweens having smartphones while minimizing the risks. The best tool I’ve seen for that job is a Parent-Child Cell Phone Contract.
What is a Parent-Child Cell Phone Contract?
This written contract between you and your child details how everyone will behave around their phone. It outlines your child’s privileges and your own commitment to support their safety and privacy, and it contains a plan for when things go wrong.
I recommend collaborating on this contract with your tween. Giving them some say about the limits imposed means they’re more likely to follow the rules. They can’t claim they were unaware or didn’t understand the rules if they took part in negotiating them.
Also, make sure you write all the terms down and have everyone sign the agreement. People tend to forget details of conversations. Writing the contract eliminates ambiguity. Your signatures are your intentions to abide by your promises.
Five Clauses for a Phone Contract for Kids
In this section, define who is participating in the contract. Include your name, your child’s name, any other adults involved in the agreement, parents living in another household, blended families, single parents, grandparents, etc. The more complete this section is, the less room you leave for misunderstanding later.
(2) Your Commitments
Collaborate with your teen here, so they know your investment and commitment to this deal goes beyond just giving them a device. For example, if they surrender their phone every night at 8 p.m., you promise to return the phone by 8 the next morning.
Make as many commitments as you find relevant, but I recommend at least these two:
- You pay for the phone and service (which gives you ownership and authority over the phone).
- Have a “Bat Signal” where you promise to come to the rescue if you receive a certain texted code, with no yelling or “I told you so’s.”
(3) Usage Restrictions
Every family has different needs, but I recommend at least these three rules for safety:
- No bedroom, no bathroom. Keep phone use where you can watch body language for signs of trouble.
- No nudes, no sexting. No sending or requesting sexually suggestive, nude, or semi-nude photos, images, or text messages. If they receive one, they should delete it immediately and let you know about it so you can decide whether to report it and block the number.
- Down times. A list of times or events (like after 9 p.m., and during meals), when the family doesn’t use their phones.
Be sure to cover what happens when somebody breaks the contract. Be creative and meaningful with your consequences, keeping a few things in mind. And make sure to include your tween in the conversation about setting consequences.
Don’t make losing the phone your go-to. This makes kids sneaky with their phones rather than encouraging them to follow the rules. Extra chores or fines work better.
Set consequences for yourself and follow them, but make them fun. Your teen picking the music for your next road trip, or your outfit for a night out, are good examples.
When you enforce the consequences, refer to the contract. Make the conversation how you, as a team, will navigate what the agreement says.
Write down how you will alter the contract as situations change. Consider building in renegotiation periods. A perfect agreement for a 14-year-old won’t work for a 17-year-old with a job and their own car.