In the town I call home, most kids start getting cell phones around 5th grade. In our family, due to the thought of what goes for one, goes for the others (most of the time), our kids got theirs in 4th grade. Is this young? Absolutely. Does it freak me out a bit to basically hand over a small computer to a child who is 100% not ready to navigate all the trouble that a phone may bring their way? Without a doubt. So here’s how we handle the cell phone situation in our house.
- Outline responsibilities with a contract
- Have parental safeguards in place
- Know pass codes
- Monitor activities
First and foremost, do what’s right for your family. This may mean saying no or putting it off while other kids are starting to get cell phones. As a parent, never be afraid to say no if you feel your child is not ready.
However, once you’ve decided to pull the trigger, it’s imperative to have a plan in place. With a phone, comes a huge responsibility. I love the idea of a contract. Here is one I put together using something I found online and adding a few things that work for my family.
Cell Phone Contract
This contract is between Mom and Dad and _____________________. It serves to establish family rules and consequences regarding cell phone usage.
- I understand that I am responsible for knowing where my phone is and for keeping it in good condition
- I will not give my phone number out to anyone who is not known to my parents unless clearing it with them first
- I will not text or place phone calls after 10pm
- I will use the phone to alert my family of my whereabouts and plans
- I will always answer calls or texts from my parents. If I miss a call from them, I will call them back immediately
- I will keep my phone charged; it is my responsibility
- I will not bring my phone to the dinner table
- I will not go over our plan’s monthly minutes or text message limits
- I will not send rude, threatening or mean texts to others
- I will obey the rules of etiquette regarding cell phones in restaurants, church or synagogue or other quiet settings
- I will obey my school’s rules regarding cell phones
- I promise to alert my parents if I receive any phone calls or texts from people I don’t know
- I will also alert my parents if someone is bothering me via my cell phone
- I understand that having a cell phone can be helpful in the case of an emergency but I know I must still practice good judgment and make good choices to keep me safe
- I will not send embarrassing photos of friends or family members to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others
- I will always ask permission to post any photos before I post them from the person in the photo or video
- There is no assumption of privacy. My parents will possibly see all social media and communications. If you don’t think we’d be happy, don’t post it.
- I will not use my phone to misbehave or cheat in school
- I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, not a right, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, or follow other family rules, my cell phone privileges will be revoked
- We will always answer a call or text from you. If we miss a call, we will call back as soon as we can.
- We will model proper and safe cell phone use, like no texting and driving
- We will not bring our phones to the family dinner table, except for emergencies
- We will obey the rules of etiquette regarding cell phones in restaurants, church or synagogue or other quiet settings
- We will alert you if our plan changes and impacts your usage
Once you’ve outlined their responsibilities related to the phone, I think having parental safeguards in place is key. We use Verizon and pay just a bit more monthly (I think it’s an extra $5) for something called “Family Base”. With this option I can effectively turn my kids’ cell phones off at any point I choose to. Currently, I have their phones set to be off from 10pm- 7am during the week. You can add any numbers you want to not be included in the restrictions so your child can always call you. You can also sign up for a weekly (or daily if you prefer) summary of who your child is calling/texting/sending/receiving pictures from. Someone once asked if I felt this was an invasion of my daughters’ privacy. No way. Anything and everything they do with a cell phone is PUBLIC and potentially for the world to see. They need to learn that from the get go.
Speaking of privacy, when it comes to their phones and what they do on them, they should have none (see italic note above- I’ve learned this one from experience). My kids are a bit older now so I certainly don’t read every text but they do know I do “spot checks”. Always have the pass code and tell them they are not allowed to delete texts. Do they ever delete texts without me knowing? Maybe but, if they get caught, they know they will lose their cell phone privileges for a while. Usually the threat is enough.
Finally, I think it’s a great idea to keep a charging station in a neutral location. For us, it’s downstairs. At 10pm, all devices (phones, laptops, ipads) go downstairs to be charged for the next day. Yes, even for my 17 year old. I feel like this is setting great lifelong habits. Having downtime at night (and getting a solid night’s sleep- you’d be shocked to know how many kids keep their phones under their pillows so they can hear if they get any texts) is so important.
If you put guidelines regarding cell phones in place prior to use, your children will only know the rules you set for them. It is much easier setting parameters for a child eager for a phone than for a teenager who really needs the rules!