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How to Make a Phone Contract for Your Tween or Teen

Parenting is hard. Have I mentioned that? Have you noticed? There’s a million things that we need to do for our kids and teach our kids, and just as you start to figure one of them out, a new one pops up. And guess what?!? Our generation has a new challenge that no generation of parents has had to face before: smart phones.


Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

So first, let’s take a deep breath and acknowledge that this one is really hard, and this time, we aren’t reinventing the wheel – we are INVENTING it. Different parents have handled this in different ways. At one extreme are the parents who’ve decided: NOPE. No phone. No iPad. No you can’t borrow my phone. Go out and play. Kudos to you guys: That takes some serious discipline. At another extreme are the parents who’ve said: YEP! WHATEVER! Their kids have the smart phone and the iPad and maybe the smart watch too. Keep it in your room, honey! Watch whatever you want! Sure you can have social media! Whatevs! Tell me about it, don’t tell me about it…I don’t care. I’m sure it’s fine. I’m super busy. Sorry, but this group doesn’t get my kudos. Remember, I’m a know-it-all and I’m gonna tell you – that is a bad idea. That is not helping your kids grow up healthy and strong.

Most of us are somewhere between these two extremes. I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and done a lot of research – that’s what I do – and I’m here to share what I’ve learned. I hope to help all of us raise some healthy, happy, smart kids that grow into good people who make smart decisions for themselves.

Here’s the deal. Technology is here to stay. Your kids are going to have this stuff around them all of their lives, and they need to learn how to use it wisely. Teach them that technology is a tool to help them, not something they should allow to control them. So, honestly, if you are trying to keep your kids totally away from tech, you are fighting a losing battle. More importantly, you are missing out on an awesome teaching opportunity.

I saw an amazing documentary on this topic, and I STRONGLY recommend that you watch it. Our PTA did a screening of it last year as part of a parent education evening, and I’m so glad they did. It’s called Screenagers. Basically, it is the brainchild of a pediatrician whose 13-year-old daughter asked her for a smartphone. The doctor wanted to make a smart decision about it, and so she did a ton of research on how smartphone use affects kids. Click here to check out their website and get more information.

The doctor, Delaney Ruston, ends up deciding to allow her daughter to have the phone, but she puts rules and guidelines into place. The family created a contract that her daughter had to agree to in order to have a phone. Awesome! Let’s all do that! But how do you create a phone contract for your tween?

How I made our contract

Here’s how I did it: I researched what others have done before me. I thought these resources for family phone contracts were the best:

  1. Screenagers (explained above): https://screenagersmovie.com/family-contract
  2. Common Sense Media is a terrific resource for helping parents to navigate the world of technology: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/pdfs/common_sense_family_media_agreement.pdf
  3. Teen Esteem is a group that strives to educate parents and teens about how to make good choices and avoid risky behaviors: https://teenesteem.org/wp-content/uploads/smart-phone-contract-for-kids.pdf

What do you put in it?

1. When, where, and how much can they have their phones?

Your family’s contract is a personal decision, but there are a few things that you need to put in there. You need to have some guidelines on when your tween is allowed to be on their phone. Most families agree that meal time is family time, and phones should be away. But what about when you are in the car? What about when you are watching a movie or playing a game together? In our family, we decided that phones aren’t allowed to be used in the car unless you ask permission. If you think about it, car rides used to be about talking to the other people you were riding with and looking at the world around you. If your tween has their face buried in their phone, that’s not happening. When our family goes on long drives, we often soften that rule. But the kids know that they are expected to ask permission.

You also need to decide what your family’s rules are about nighttime phone use. In our family, my husband and I have always plugged our phones in to charge in the kitchen before heading off to bed. I know some adults choose to have their phones near them, but with a “Do not disturb” setting or the like. So we made the rule for our kids be that they have to bring their phones to the kitchen before bedtime. We also have the “Do not disturb” function set for 9:00pm-6:45am so that they won’t be tempted by texts. Teens and tweens SHOULD NOT have their phones in their rooms with them at night. That is just asking for trouble. I know I’m being bossy here, but remember, I’m a know-it-all and I am telling you, nothing good will come of that. Tweens and teens need their sleep. And they need a break from the world.

2. Manners

Tweens and teens also need to be taught how to treat people online. We all know cyber bullying is an awful problem, and we need to teach our kids to be part of the solution. We all should be treating people in the virtual world the same way we treat people in the real world. You shouldn’t say anything that you wouldn’t say out loud. In our daughter’s contract, I went so far as to say if you wouldn’t say it with your friend’s parents in the room, don’t text it or post it online. Chances are, their parents are reading their texts, too!

3. Safety

And of course, you need to teach tweens how to be safe online. You should know their passwords, and they need to know that you will be checking their texts and online activity periodically.

You also need to give them strategies for how to deal with situations that make them uncomfortable or hurt their feelings.

All of this varies with YOUR KID. Kids are not all the same, so take into consideration your kid’s age, temperament, and personality. Does your kid hang out with nice kids and do well in school? Is your kid a rule-tester? Does your kid suffer from anxiety or other issues? Is your kid 10 years old or 17? All of these facts should affect what you decide. Feeling overwhelmed? If so…copy mine!

Our family phone contract:

____________’s Phone, Tech, and Screen Agreement

Mom and Dad will always know the password for the phone and any apps, and will monitor it regularly, including texts and videos.  Get their help to set up privacy settings whenever you want to make a new account.

Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud to them (and be ok with their parents overhearing).  Remember, their parents are also monitoring their devices. If anyone online makes you uncomfortable or angry, do not respond. Instead, show Mom or Dad immediately.  

 Do not download, order, or sign up for anything online without parent permission.

Be kind and honest always- online, on the phone, in person.

Do not search/view/share any pictures or videos that are inappropriate.  If you see any private parts on your phone or other device let Mom or Dad know.  If you want to listen to music that has inappropriate lyrics, play the song for Mom and make sure she says it is ok.  Do not play inappropriate songs with other kids unless we have an ok from their parents.

Get parent permission to post pictures of yourself or others.  Make sure mom is aware of all posted pictures and videos. You must have a person’s permission if you want to post/send a picture of them to anyone.

Remember that the internet is forever.  You will be tempted to do something questionable or risky.  What you do on the internet can impact your life today and in the future.  If you don’t want to explain it to a stranger, your grandparents, grandchildren, or future boss, don’t do it.

If you exceed your data allotment, you are responsible for the charges.  If something happens to the phone, you are responsible for replacement costs.

If the phone rings, answer it if it is someone you know and it’s an appropriate time to talk.  Say “hello.” Use good manners like you would in person. ALWAYS answer it if it is Mom or Dad.  DO NOT answer it if you don’t recognize the number. The same goes for texts.

Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you.  

People you are spending time with take precedence over people contacting you through your phone.  Be polite. If you need to look at your phone, tell the people you are with what you are doing. If it can wait, let it.  Don’t make other people feel like they are too boring to interest you.

Specific Usage:

If you are asked to turn off/stop playing/get off phone, you will do so promptly.

Phones are not allowed during meals and focused family time.

Before school (or whenever getting ready to leave the house), phone is only allowed to be used for communication or music, not for screentime, apps, or games.  You are expected to be ready for school on time (breakfast eaten and cleaned up, room neat, teeth brushed). If the phone is hindering expected behavior, it will be disallowed the following day.

Homework time is phone-free.  Only quiet study music is allowed.  Limited texting may be ok with Mom’s approval.  Focus is important for learning and your phone is a distraction.

Phones may not be used in cars, except under certain circumstances.  If you must use it, tell the other people in the car what you are doing.  In general, if you are in a car you should be interacting with the other people.

The phone and ipod will be put away in the kitchen at 8pm.  

Away from the family, continue to be respectful with your phone and use it similarly.  If someone is talking to you, it isn’t the time to be looking at your phone. It should be silenced and put away during events.  Treat friends, teachers, dance teachers, other parents etc. the way you have been taught to treat people. You are not a rude person.  Do not allow your phone to change that. Make people feel special, interesting, and respected by paying attention to them. That will help them to like you.

If you don’t follow these guidelines, the standard consequence will be loss of the phone the following day.  You will mess up and it’s ok. We are always learning. We will talk about it and start over.

I understand these guidelines and I will work hard to follow them.

________________________________________

We will stick to these guidelines and give a reasonable number of reminders.  We will be fair and will listen when you need to talk about these guidelines.

_______________________________________   ___________________________________

Thanks for reading! Please comment below and let me know how it’s going making your family’s contract.

To get more ideas for helping your tween or teen grow up to be strong and successful, check out my article about helping your kids to become more resilient.

Also, check out my series on Ending Negativity:

Part 1: How to help your Tween and Teen Let go of Negative Thinking

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7 Comments

  1. Hi Karen,
    I loved this post. Having three in the house with phones it certainly is challenging to manage phones, especially with a wide age spread. Younger ones always want to do what the older ones are doing. Sigh, it really is inventing the wheel every day. Thanks for your contract so we don’t have to invent that one. I’ll be checking out Screenagers, I’m a researching, know it all around here too. LOL

    1. Thanks so much Laurie! I agree that having younger kids want to keep up with the older kids in the family adds to the challenges. My daughter is 2 1/2 years younger than my son, and I tell her that they are different and so they need different rules. That goes for bedtimes, staying alone at home – lots of things. It may seem unfair, but it is just different.

  2. Great post! I think it is so important to let kiddos know what your expectations are up front. I especially like the section of the contract that talk about use of technology in the car. How do you enforce this when other kids are in your car? Do you or your children let them know your family’s cell phone policy?

    1. What a great question! That is a tricky subject. I’ve always thought that guests ought to respect the house rules, and I have taught my kids that they should be the ones to let kids know what the rules are. That is definitely more challenging as kids get older. If we are driving a friend and the friend wants to share something on their phone with my child, I’m ok with that because they’re interacting. If the friend wants to play a game by his/herself on a device, then I ask them to put the device away. I only say it once, since I don’t want to be “that parent,” and I hope that my kid will help to handle the situation. Which kind of works. 😉

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