Anatomy of a Smartphone Contract
If you decide to give your teen a cell phone, it’s not a bad idea to create a smartphone contract between both of you. It will lay down some clear guidelines for acceptable behavior while teaching them adult-level responsibility and accountability in the process. So what are some common rules and why are they a good idea?
Text Free Zones
This rule is about setting limits on when a teen can text, or more specifically when they can’t. This rule can just as easily apply to all cell usage, including calls and data. Some common ‘Text Free’ times are during meals, or other family time, while driving or after a certain time of day. This rule isn’t just about safety and courtesy. It’s about removing unnecessary distractions from family bonding time. You can’t talk to each other if your faces are hovering over tiny screens.
Keep the Grades Up
Cell phones can be great for a teen’s social life, but offer a tremendous distraction from class and homework time, and then the grades suffer. Some might have a specific rule about finishing homework before using the phone, but it all boils down to the results. Some teens can appropriately balance a cell phone and schoolwork, so you don’t want to be more rigid than necessary. Studies have shown that overly strict parenting can lead to delinquency later in life. Let them know that the freedom is theirs to lose; if the grades drop below a certain level, then they lose their cell privileges until they’re back up.
It’s a Privilege, not a Right
It’s funny how quickly people, adults included, can forget about this one. Add a stipulation to your contract that the phone can be taken away as a consequence for misbehavior. Be specific about what behavior constitutes such a punishment. Avoid dangling the threat over their heads every time you need to regain control, or you might create resentment instead of teaching them about responsibility.
A study conducted by the CDC shows that clear communication about expectations and consequences lead to healthier adults. With that in mind, be sure to include which behaviour will earn their privileges back once they’re lost so they have something positive to focus on once if they cross a line.
There are plenty of horror stories about what teens might use cell phones for, including indecent picture messages, texts or videos. While its always a good idea to avoid letting fear dictate your parenting decisions, you don’t want to ignore unsafe situations either. Be clear that there are consequences for inappropriate messaging. You might add that messages can be viewed by you at any time. Try to incentivize good behavior by rewarding them for responding maturely to inappropriate messages they might receive. If possible, make it a team effort against unwanted content instead of you policing their habits.
Keep Their Parents in the Loop
The unfortunate reality is that just because you work to keep your child’s behavior in line doesn’t mean that others will do the same. Instead of waiting for these things to happen, create a set of rules to follow if they do. Let them know that they are not responsible for what other people do, and if they are being harassed, bullied or made to feel uncomfortable that you are always ready to help them solve the problems, without judgment or punishment. If something does happen, they’ll be glad to have the structure in place to deal with it.
Cell Phone Etiquette
An often-overlooked cell phone issue is a tad more indirect. Your teen may be following all the rules, texting appropriately, keeping the grades up, but what about where they’re doing it? Are they texting during an important lecture? Are they taking loud calls inside the library or similar public places? They may be so engrossed that they’re unaware of how their behavior is affecting others, so stipulate that cell phone use does not excuse them from normal polite behavior.
Their Phone, Their Responsibility
It’s one thing to limit their usage, but it’s another thing to try and chase down the physical device to make sure it’s charged, not lost or working properly. You have your own phone to worry about after all, and they have theirs. Let them know that there are no replacement phones.
If they lose it, break it, drop it in the sink, then it’s their responsibility to replace it. If they forget to charge it and have to go without until they’re out of school, then that’s on them. It’s best to find natural consequences for their actions when possible, such as creating a dynamic where their negligence has a direct effect on them and no one else. They will learn, one way or another, that they have to be responsible for their own property if they value it.
Lead by example and include a few rules for yourself. Show them what it looks like to be accountable to the same contract you have with them. Add a rule about giving them a certain amount of notice if you make changes to the service plan that affects them. Mention that they have to be notified of changes to the contract as well. Create a rule that they can contact you at any time about inappropriate messages or behavior toward them, just having it in writing can help them if it comes up. Try submitting yourself to the same etiquette rules regarding phones during family time. Good authoritative parenting consists of showing them why these rules matter instead of handing them a list of ‘don’ts’
At the end of the day, you need to make a contract that works for you and your family. These are just some ideas for issues that might come up, but it’s up to you to decide which rules to enforce and how rigidly. Be clear with your teen that these rules are guidelines because you’re concerned about their well-being, and that the contract is intended to protect their personal freedoms.