The Essential Rules for Getting Your Child a Phone

Discipline & Behavior
Media Safety
Parenting Skills
Parents Tips

With the holidays upon us, many families of older children are faced with the question of allowing them to have a smart phone or not. Middle schoolers argue that “everyone else has one,” while parents grow tired of being their child’s social coordinator.

With endless phone upgrades available, many parents have old smartphones at home, which make it easy to introduce children to phones at an earlier age than might have been the case if a parent had to spend $500 to go buy a new one. While handing down your old phone may seem like an obvious answer, we encourage you to be thoughtful about when you allow your child to have a phone. For younger kids especially, a simple “dumb” phone with calling and texting abilities may be the best, most affordable, choice.

mother giving phone to daughter

In a time when many families have given up the landline, allowing your child to have their own phone can have many benefits. It offers your child a chance at increased independence while reassuring parents that kids are easily accessible. It makes playdates and after school pick-ups more manageable, as well as offering kids an opportunity to coordinate their own plans or resolve homework questions independently.

The flipside of course is the fear that phones can consume kids or that they might engage in drama via text or Snapchat. With this in mind, we offer a sample smart phone contract for your consideration. Versions of contracts like these have been passed along from parent to parent who has faced this dilemma in the past few years and we encourage you to glean what you can from their wisdom. We highly recommend that you proactively have a discussion about each rule on your smart phone contract because once you give your child that phone they are off and running. It is not a conversation you will want to have to have via text with your child later.

Sample Contract for a Pre-teen Receiving a Smart Phone

Dear… ,

Happy holidays!!! Guess what??? You are now the proud recipient of an iPhone! Hot Diggidy Dog—you are one lucky girl! You are a good and responsible 12-year-old girl who has shown us you are ready for this but, with the acceptance of this present comes some rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. We hope that you understand it is our job to raise you into a well-rounded, healthy young lady who can function in the world and co-exist with technology, not be ruled by it.
Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone use. We love you so very much and look forward to sharing several million text messages and phone calls with you in the years to come.

iPhone Rules & Regulations:

  1. It is our phone. We bought it. We pay for it. We are loaning it to you. Aren’t we the greatest?
  2. We will always know the password.
  3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.” Not ever.
  4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 p.m. every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 p.m. (or any other time we ask for it). It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30 a.m. If it is a time when you would not make a call to someone’s land line, where their parents may answer first, then do not call or text your friend. Listen to those instincts and respect other families in the same way we would like to be respected.
  5. It is always “off” during school. Have an in-person conversation with the people who you text. It’s a life skill.
  6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Babysit, do extra chores, stash some birthday money. It will happen. You should be prepared.
  7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first and stay the heck out of “drama” (yours or other people’s).
  8. Do not text, post, email, or say anything through this device that you would not say in person. Most parents check their children’s texts so whatever you write, know that their parents are reading it too (just like we will be reading yours; yes, we can and will monitor all your texts and websites that you visit—even if you delete them from your phone).
  9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Sarcasm and joking don’t usually translate well in writing and can be perceived as offensive. All CAPS implies yelling. Once it’s in writing, you can never take it back—you can easily lose friends and your reputation with inappropriate, mean, rude, catty comments (via text or in person).
  10. Search the web only for information you would openly share with us. If you have a question about anything, ask a person—preferably your parents. Again, we will have access to everything you view so please keep that in mind.
  11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away when you are in public—especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow this iPhone to change that. Don’t walk down the street, cross a street, etc. while looking at your phone. Pay attention to your surroundings—be safe and take in the scenery, sights and people around you.
  12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts—don’t laugh!! Someday you may be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a BAD idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear—including a bad reputation. It will follow you everywhere and could ruin your happiness for a long time.
  13. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without Googling.
  14. And lastly, remember this … you will mess up. You’re human. We will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. We are all always learning. We are on your team. We are in this together.

It is our hope that you can agree to these terms. Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply to the iPhone, but to life. You are growing up in a fast and ever-changing world. It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get. Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine. We love you very much. We hope you enjoy this awesome new iPhone.

Xoxoxo Mom & Dad

If you need help to deal with the conflicts that can arise in your family due to technology use or social media, please contact the expert staff at Parents Place. We are here for you!

Rebecca Wood, LCSW, is the Director of Parents Place in Marin County and is available for in-person, phone, and online consultations.


Posted by on December 15, 2017

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