I’m gonna keep this post simple and to the point. Since we live in a world where cell phones rule our lives, it’s inevitable that most of us will wind up giving our children cell phones. While safety and accessibility was our main priority in making the decision to give our older daughter her first phone, we knew we needed to lay down the law when it came to safety, rules and expectations since her main priority was to play and communicate with her friends. A cell phone contract was an obvious starting point.
Giving the Phone
The age your child should be when they first receive a phone is entirely up to you. We held off as long as we could and Avery was certainly one of the last of her friends and classmates to receive one. And guess what? We NEVER felt guilty about that. We initially figured we’d get her one at age 14, or later if we could push it. But, it truly came down to us needing a way to contact her when she was at after school activities or at a friend’s house.
So, for her 13th birthday, on her actual birthday and not in front of all her friends at her birthday party, she received her first phone. We never gave her any hint that we were even considering getting her a phone and she knew nothing of this “contract”. Her reaction in this video makes us 1000% sure we did the right thing by not caving and giving her one too soon just because everyone else had one. Forgive the poor quality, I grabbed my phone to film last minute and was trying to be slick about it. #fail
We had her read and sign the contract before she was allowed to do anything on the phone.
Rules to Live By
I scoured the internet for cell phone contracts and tried to remember all of the pointers I’d heard along the way, long before my daughter was old enough to even consider this craziness. In the end, I kept a spreadsheet of any rule/guideline/expectation/standards I came across that was important to us to relay to our daughter and were rules she’d be required to adhere to. I spent hours going over the wording, the order of each line item and the fear of leaving out something critical that might pop up in the future.
My biggest piece of advice is something I learned from a client years ago. NO PHONES IN THE BEDROOMS and they must be turned in to us at a certain time each night. Our rule is actually “no phones upstairs” since that’s where the kids’ bedrooms are. We don’t allow any technology upstairs other than television so that we can monitor whatever is going on.
For a long time, my daughter was glad we had that rule because she was annoyed that all of her friends were up until 2 or 3 am texting or Facetiming. My kid needs her sleep and knew that it would be detrimental to her well-being (and everyone else’s for that matter as she is not a morning person under the best of circumstances). Unfortunately, these days, she gets mad about that rule now that she feels like she needs more privacy. She’s also broken the rule and snuck her phone upstairs overnight. She lost her phone until we decided she could have it back for that one. She now sits on the front or back porch when she wants privacy.
We also have a rule that ties school performance to her phone. While it’s generically stated in the contract (that she must maintain a decent grade average), our rule is that any F or any 0 for missing work, is an automatic 2 days without the phone per offense.
Added Security Measures
While the contract was a good start to teach her upfront what was and wasn’t acceptable, we also have a few apps installed on her phone to make life easier. We use Life360 so we know where she is, when she’s arrived at her destination or when she leaves. She HATES this app and says it’s creepy. Too bad. I love it.
In addition to Life360, we use OurPact to lock down her phone when she’s lost phone privileges but still needs her phone so we can contact her. The free version was more effective when she texted less and was more interested in playing games but I haven’t yet upgraded to include the ability to block texting.
I should also mention before we gave her the phone, we set up the built-in parental controls to remove her ability to do anything to the phone without our permission, including downloading or removing any apps. We’ve all heard the horror stories regarding dangerous apps, and I wasn’t taking any chances. It also opens up dialogue when I have to reject her requests. I always explain my reasons to take advantage of teachable moments.
The Cell Phone Contract
I’ve had a good handful of Facebook friends request this for their own use over the years so I decided to add it here and make it available to anyone in need. Scroll to the end of the post to download the color version or the simple, black and white version. I strongly urge you to do this (even if you don’t use this contract) before you give your child a cell phone. While you clearly still get to set the rules, it’s much easier to get them to read, digest and follow them before they’ve become accustomed to a free for all.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions when it comes to cell phone usage with teenagers?