Giving your teen a smartphone can be an emotional, frustrating experience. You hand over the phone and lay down the rules only to have the arguments begin immediately.
Believe me, there will be pushback. Expect comments like, “What do you mean I have to friend you on Facebook?” And, “How come I can’t have unlimited data like Jenny has?” Or, “Why can’t I bring my phone to the dinner table? What if I miss an important text?”
How did this coming-of-age, exciting moment turn into a shouting match? More importantly, how can you avoid it?
1. Get 'buy-in' from the get-go
First, take a deep breath. You can make this go smoothly.
For instance, sit down with your teen and, from the beginning (perhaps even before she has a phone), start a conversation about proper phone etiquette. This will make your teen feel like a part of the process while reminding her that these are family rules, and everyone is going to participate. (More on that last part later.)
This conversation will also give you an opportunity to calmly explain your thinking behind each rule. In addition to having an overall calmer conversation, you’ll be more likely to have a teen that will come to you if there’s a problem down the road.
2. Set reasonable rules
Be sure your contract has rules with substance and purpose. For instance, asking your teen to turn off the phone at bedtime just makes sense. Studies show that screen time before bed disrupts sleep and makes you feel less rested during the day.
Some important rules any good contract should include:
No texting or phone calls while driving.
This is probably the most important rule in the contract. Roughly 1 in 10 drivers aged 18 to 20 who survived an auto accident admit they were sending or receiving texts when they crashed, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
No cell phones during family time.
Turning off the cell phone during designated family times like dinner also makes sense. It’s reasonable to expect that there are times that are strictly for face-to-face connection.
Homework takes priority.
Smartphones can get in the way of homework so make these rules very clear. Also specify what the consequences will be if the rules are broken.
If I call, you better pick up.
Nothing is more frustrating than getting your teen a phone and having him ignore your calls. Set up consequences for if this becomes a pattern.
3. Proceed with caution
Teens may not understand the permanence of what they post online. Advise them of how a digital reputation, including sexts, can dog them long after school. An uncomfortable conversation, for sure, but if you don’t advise your children of the risks, their (likely ill-informed) peers will.
4. Data usage limits
Most of us have data limits on our phone plans. Be proactive and inform your teen about this. Explain how data limits work, and why your teen needs to be on a secure WiFi network whenever possible. My daughter had to learn this lesson the hard (and expensive) way, but once she did, she never overused her data again.
It’s also a good idea to put your carrier’s app on your child’s phone, so she can track the data usage herself.
5. Good social media etiquette
It’s vital you talk to your teen about the dos and don’ts of proper social media posting. Beside the obvious caution about messages he wouldn’t want the world to see, your teen should be aware of bullying and its consequences. If he’s the one getting bullied, encourage him to come to you first.
6. It’s your teen’s responsibility to take care of the phone
Smartphones are expensive. Rather than just telling your teen this, have her cover some of the cost. Perhaps she buys the case or other accessories. If the phone is lost, let her know that she will be at least partially responsible to replace it.
7. Revisit rules yearly
Smartphone technology can literally change overnight. One way to stay on top of changes: Do a yearly review of your family’s rules. How is everyone feeling about the rules? What needs to change? Is your child ready for updated rules to reflect her age?
8. Walk the walk
Remember, your kids are paying attention to your actions and will be watching your smartphone behavior. Be sure to set a good example. (Pro tip: To stick to that tricky rule about no driving and texting, put your purse and cell phone in the trunk.)
See a sample of a smartphone contract and download the free guide below to get you started. By writing down your expectations and your teen’s, you’re taking the first important step toward a safer, more peaceful smartphone experience.
For more details on deciding whether your teen is ready for this new responsibility, as well as a detailed roadmap for the journey, download our free guide.