As you get your tween or teen a cell phone, establish rules about where they can be used, rules for before and after school, expectations at school, rules for apps, and other good rules to establish with your teenagers and preteens.
Getting a cell phone for your tween or teen might seem pretty straightforward at first, but as you get into the details, you soon realize that there is a lot to think about and decide.
A cell phone is a big responsibility and should be treated as such, by both the parents and the tween or teen getting the phone.
Before handing the phone over, you want to make sure you and your child are clear on the rules, expectations, and requirements for the phone usage. The phone should be considered a privilege and not a right.
Here are some ground rules to consider as you set rules for your own family.
- Location Restrictions for Cell Phones
- Before and After School Cell Phone Use
- During School Expectations
- General Cell Phone Rules and Restrictions
- Rules About Apps
- Understanding Social Etiquette
- Rules for Parents
- Moving from Tween to Teen
- Best Ages for Cell Phones
- Best Phones for Teens and Tweens
- Related Posts
Location Restrictions for Cell Phones
Your teen or tween should not be allowed to use the cell phone anywhere they want to. There should be locations where a device is not allowed in your home.
Bedroom. No devices allowed in the bedroom. This is especially true if the device has a camera and/or the internet on it.
This should be a rule during the day and at night. The phone does not need to charge in the bedroom. The device does not need to be in the bedroom. If you want to allow the device to go into the bedroom, make sure you at least have a rule that the door must be open at all times that the phone is in the room.
We used to advise parents that the family desktop computer should be in a public location. There is nothing that has changed about the internet that now makes it safe to take the internet into a bedroom behind shut doors.
Bathroom. For the same reasons listed above, you may want to include a no bathroom policy. If your child wants to read something in the bathroom, they can take a hard copy printed item into it.
Dinner Table. The benefits and value of family dinners are well-documented. You negate that value if you allow cell phones to be accessed during dinner time. Keep devices off or away from the table during family meals. Text messages can wait.
Family Time. It is also perfectly reasonable and acceptable to not allow devices during family activities. If you are spending time together as a family, you can require that the cell phone is put away.
While Driving. If your child is old enough to drive, make sure it is well understood that it is not okay to use a phone while driving.
Before and After School Cell Phone Use
You will also want to have rules and boundaries for before and after school usage.
Some people put a hard rule that phones cannot be accessed before school. Phone addiction is a real thing, and if teenagers reach for the phone very first thing each morning, you can quickly find a strong addiction has taken hold.
But there is the real possibility that there has been communication sent out overnight or in the morning that your teen needs to know. You can always have a rule that your teen needs to be ready for school before accessing the phone or you can restrict screen time until after a certain hour of the day.
You will want to have some rules in place for after school. Teenagers need to be able to disconnect from school and social drama. They need time away from the phone so they can have time away from peers. Boundaries are healthy.
You might have the first hour or two after school be a no-screen time. You might wait and do a certain time in the evening that is a no-screen time. You might want to require the phone be turned in to you until after homework, practices, and chores have been completed.
During School Expectations
At a minimum, you should support the school rules for mobile devices at school with your teenager. If tech is not allowed in the classroom, you should support that.
The school policy has been created to benefit the school population as a whole. Some rules will be in response to real issues that have come up. Others are in place to help prevent issues from happening.
You can also give further rules on top of what school rules are. Maybe the school or certain teachers are okay with devices being out during the class, but you are not. It is okay for you to add rules for cell phone usage at school to what the school has in place.
I would also add to whatever you have in place a serious talk about no bullying with or through devices. It is easy for teens and tweens to get caught up in a herd mentality and think certain behaviors are okay because they seem funny.
Make your expectations clear on how they should treat others.
General Cell Phone Rules and Restrictions
There are some general rules you will want to consider putting in place for your kids.
Family Charging Station. Have a location where all devices are turned in when not in use. This makes it easy for you as the parent to scan and make sure all devices are turned in, especially at night.
Phone Curfew. It is a really good idea to have a curfew time for the phone to be turned in to the charging station. This should be before bedtime, not at bedtime. Give your kids time to wind down before bed without devices and electronics.
Time Limits. There should be limits to when the devices can be accessed. We have discussed some options above in the school section. You might also include general screen time limits. You can set limits on apps (you can literally limit the amount of time allowed on an app). You can also set limits on time. You can restrict certain hours (like night) from being accessible.
Many adults struggle to maintain a healthy balance with certain apps or with the device in general. Help your child learn to set and maintain healthy boundaries to avoid addiction.
Phone Reviews. You can and should as the parent review your child’s devices and phone usage. Know who your child is communicating with. Know what is being communicated.
Know which apps your child is using and how long your child is spending on them. Know what photos are being taken.
You can even read through text conversations. My kids know we do this and they let their friends know that also.
Contacts Must Be Real People. The contacts your child has in the phone should be real people they have met in person.
Spam Responses. Make sure your child knows how to handle spam messages. Make sure they understand to NOT click on links and to NOT respond to texts from strangers.
Do not expect your child to inherently know how to handle spam. Many intelligent adults with life experience fall for phishing; your teen can too.
Reporting Porn. Have a policy for your child if they encounter porn. You should be asking your child if anything has come up. They should know what to do if it does come up.
If your child reports seeing something, do not freak out. Make sure you respond in such a way that they will be willing to come to you the next time it happens.
Consequences for Broken Rules. By the time your child is a tween or teen, they should understand that there will be consequences for broken rules and/or misuse of technology.
You can lay out specific consequences. You can also just give some general possible consequences. You can also apply any consequences that seem fitting if rules are broken.
Rules About Apps
Your child should not have free reign to download any app he wants to.
We require permission for any app to be downloaded to a device. If we are not familiar with the app, we will talk to the child about it and research it before saying yes or no.
There are certain apps that are just not allowed before a certain age and certain apps that are just not allowed.
For example, we do not allow social media at all before Sophomore year of high school. By this point, the teenager is at least 15 years old. At that point, we start slow with Instagram and maybe Facebook. There are many social media platforms that are hard nos no matter the age.
Again, consider placing screen time limits on the apps. You can do this on the honor system or do it through the literal device.
You should also have rules that apps and devices can’t just be used anytime, any place. If you have limits on technology already, those should carry into the cell phone. Games and apps on tablets and other devices are not immune to technology rules your family already has in place.
Understanding Social Etiquette
You can no more expect a teenager to know social etiquette for phone usage than you can expect a toddler to understand that it isn’t nice to tell someone they have a fat belly.
Some things just need to be taught, especially to some personalities.
Make sure your tween or teen understands what is and is not okay when using a phone.
It is impolite to text while you are talking with someone else. You might need to interrupt a conversation to respond to a text. Verbally acknowledge that you are doing so.
Make sure your teen understands that things that are put out in text and the internet always exist. You can’t take those things back even if you delete them.
Talk to your child about the potential pitfalls of taking screenshots of conversations and sharing them with others. If you take a screenshot of a conversation with one friend and send that to another friend with a snarky comment, it will probably come out someday.
It is also unkind to take photos or videos of others and post them or share them without permission.
Focus on the golden rule. How would you want to be treated? Do you want friends mocking you behind your back?
Have the conversation that words matter. What you say through a text or other written communication will affect the person you are directing it to.
Rules for Parents
For many years, I have stressed how important a parent’s example is to their children.
This is still true for teens and still true for cell phone usage. Your child will mirror your behavior.
Be a good example of healthy usage.
When it comes to setting up rules and expectations for your kids, start as you mean to go on. Set up rules from the beginning. Then they are just rules and do not seem like punishments.
If you wait until something bad happens to instate rules, it will seem like the rules are a punishment rather than guidelines.
Make sure you are familiar with the device your child is using and are aware of the parental controls available to you. Take the time to set up parental controls.
You might also find it helpful if you write out the rules. This will help you be clear in your mind what your rules are and are not.
You can share the rules with your tween or teen in a cell phone contract. We have not done an official cell phone contract at our house. Some people are really against something so formal.
I see no problem with it, but I also feel like by the time we allow cell phones, our child is very accustomed to following rules.
With that said, teenagers can frankly make really dumb decisions at times, so it isn’t a bad idea to have things in writing.
Moving from Tween to Teen
This post has talked in generalities for tweens and teens.
Tweens should have stricter rules and limitations than teens. As your child gets older, you can allow things you did not allow in the younger years.
Make sure you are making rules based on your individual child. It is okay to have some family policies (like we do with social media), but you do not have to keep things even for every child.
For example, our social media policy is you have to be at least a Sophomore before you can have social media.
Just because you enter 10th grade does not mean you automatically get to start an account. It means we will talk about it.
Just because an older sibling got a privilege at a certain age does not mean you will.
Keep rules appropriate for your child’s age group and maturity level.
Best Ages for Cell Phones
Many parents wonder what a good age is for cell phones. Then people wonder what age is okay for smartphones.
My strong counsel to you is to make the decision based on your own assessment and research. Do not do something earlier than you feel comfortable with because you feel pressure because “all the other parents are doing it.”
Make sure you are aware of the studied and reported potential pitfalls of owning a cell phone.
One of the best resources out there is Collin Kartchner. He has sadly passed away, but the information is still available.
Another fantastic resource is Wait Until 8th. This organization encourages parents to wait until 8th grade before allowing their child to have a smartphone.
A resource I really enjoy on Facebook is Officer Gomez. He works with students in a high school and is able to really share valuable information with parents.
I recommend you start simple and that you wait as long as you can.
I am not going to give a hard and fast age for when things are and are not okay. That answer will vary from family to family. What is right for a family living in New York City is sure to be different than for a family living in a tiny town in Wyoming.
Do your research. Know what the experts are saying and why. Then apply that to your family and start as simple as you can and as old as you can.
At our house, a child does not have their own cell phone until middle school. In middle school, that phone is severely limited and locked down. Internet access is limited. The phone plan is a pre-paid plan and is not unlimited.
In high school, we upgrade.
There is no phone in elementary school. We have done smartwatches in elementary, but that was only during the “-vid” year.
Best Phones for Teens and Tweens
You can also get a smart phone and lock it down. For some families, this is an economical option if the parents have recently upgraded phones.
Just as I said above, do your research. Know what is available.
Get something you can manage. Most teens know technology better than we do–don’t get something for your child you don’t understand at all.
So much of your success in navigating the cell phone with your tweens and teens is really started with your parenting of your toddlers.
This will continue as your kids get older. Establish rules with technology from a young age.
As I mentioned, our kids are smarter at tech than we are. If they really want to outsmart us, they probably can. Brayden has taught me a lot about how to use my own devices. Make sure you are setting rules and expectations from a young age.
Make sure your kids understand the “why” behind your rules. This will help them respect the rules.
- Technology Rules for Teens
- Effective Parenting In The Digital Age
- How To Successfully Do a Technology Fast
- Rules for Balancing Screen Time
- Tools for Teaching Children About Pornography and Protecting Them From It
- 10 Signs of Digital Overload and What to Do About It
- Teach Tweens to Have Respect