Giving a teenager their first phone is a pretty big step in both your lives.
Your little kid has grown up into a strapping teen, and they’ve finally convinced you that they’re ready to have their own phone.
So what’s your next move? You want to make sure that this doesn’t end up being the worst decision of your parenting career, but you also don’t want your kid to get out of this experience without a lesson learned about the real world.
Well, how about a phone contract?
No, we don’t mean the contract you sign at the shop, we’re talking about an etiquette contract. Just as legally binding (in the law of your home anyway), but instead of talking about the contract of the phone itself, it’s a contract of how your teen uses that phone. Basically, it’s behavioural, covering what they can and what they cannot do with their new technology. If the idea is resonating with you, here are some ideas about what clauses to include.
It should be very clear to your teenager that although they get to use the phone, you own it. Unless they paid for it with their own money, they should know that having a phone isn’t a right, it’s a privilege, which means that they take care of it, just like they would anything else that is loaned to them.
Your teenager needs to understand that although you own the phone, they are responsible for its safety. This means if it gets broken, damaged or stolen, they are the ones who will need to pay for fixing it. Yes, this will mean they need to do chores, that they might not be able to afford a phone straight away, or that they might not be able to get the same phone next time. Deal with it.
3. Parental Rights
As a parent, you want your teenager to know that you’re there to help them and protect them. They should know that you will always have the password for their phone, and that at any time, you can take it off them, particularly for violating the contract.
4. Expected Behaviour
There are a few aspects to this, but we’ll cover some of them later. Essentially, the most basic one is that your teenager understands that they will never lie about how they use their phone, and they will always answer the phone if their mum or dad is calling, unless they would be breaking the rules by doing so.
Having your own phone comes with its own expectations for use. For one, teenagers should practice and maintain good phone manners. Put that right in the contract. When they’re on the phone, with anyone, they should be courteous and pay attention, don’t multitask, and always answer and end calls politely.
6. Usage Times
It’s always a good idea to have strict usage times for your teenager’s phone use, so they know who is in control. Many parents set a time each morning that their child will be given their phone, like 7:30am, and a time in the evening when they will hand the phone back, like 7:30pm or a little later on weekends. This stops the issue of teens not sleeping because of social media or phone use.
7. The ‘In Person’ Rule
Teen social circles can be a mean place, but your teenager shouldn’t be a part of it. Your teen needs to understand that having a phone doesn’t give them the right to do what they want. Make sure you put on their contract that they shouldn’t say anything to anyone that they wouldn’t say to them in person.
8. Unexpected Costs
Phones do have a tendency to incur costs, particularly if your teenagers are making phone calls they shouldn’t be making, using too much data, or accidentally getting caught up with in-app purchases. They’re old enough to know better, which is why any additional costs, beyond the monthly service fee that you pay, will be paid by them.
There’s never an excuse for bullying. Your teenager should understand that if you find them using their phone to participate in bullying in anyway, including standing by and doing nothing in the face of someone else being bullied, they will lose their phone. It doesn’t matter that their friends think it’s funny, it’s not on.
10. Follow The Rules
Wherever you allow your teenager to bring their phone (i.e. school, the movies, church etc), make sure they know that they must follow the rules of that location. Turn your phone off at the movies, put it on silent when you’re at school and keep it in your bag. If your teenager gets a warning for using their phone at school when they shouldn’t, you should be able to take it off them. End of story.
11. Private Things (a.k.a. Grandma Rule)
The best way to simplify this one is with the ‘Grandma Rule’. Your teenager must understand that they should never send, receive or research anything they wouldn’t want to show Grandma. This means no naked photographs, and no porn. It’s particularly important to drill into them the danger of naked images, not just for their own protection and reputation, but in terms of the impact that it can have on their futures.
12. Take Breaks
Having a phone can be a great experience for a teenager, one that opens up a new world to them, as well as providing them with an opportunity to prove their maturity. But having a phone is not the entire world. Make sure that you write into your teen’s contract that it’s important to have breaks, and that they should practice spending time away from their phones to be teenagers. After all, this is the last stop before adulthood.