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Making Rules Before Giving Your Child A Phone

If you have a young child, you might have already noticed that a lot of their friends are starting to get cell phones, and if that’s the case your kid is probably starting to put the pressure on you to get one for them. Before you give in and give your kid a phone, it’s important to set some ground rules.

Making the Rules

There are a variety of rules you can create regarding a child’s cell phone, and some kids might need more guidelines than others. Some common rules might include: 

  • Only talk to and text people you [the parent] know. 
  • Don’t use the phone in class, or don’t take the phone to school in the first place.
  • Limiting the amount of time they spend on their phone (no phones during dinner or phones off by 9pm, for example).
  • Don’t ignore texts or calls from their parents.
  • Don’t buy extra apps, ringtones, or other accessories without asking first. 
  • If they break the rules they can lose their phone.

Sometimes it’s hard to anticipate what aspects of having a cell phone will become a problem. Maybe they’ll get the phone and there won’t be any problems, or maybe they’ll get it and they won’t put it down to the point where they’re getting in trouble for using it at school. Be clear that no matter what you have the final word and you can amend your rules or create new ones if you need to.

Getting Those Rules to Stick

Kids need to understand that having a phone is a privilege, not a right (no matter how unfair that may seem). As long as you’re paying for their phone you’re the owner of it and until they pay for it themselves you can set the rules. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some resistance, though.

If your kids are having trouble following the rules you set for them, there are a number of things you can do. First and foremost, if you want your kid to respect the rules you have to respect them, too. If you’re trying to get your kid to put away their phone at the dinner table, your orders won’t have any weight if your phone is out during the meal. You need to be an example of the rules rather than just the person who makes them. If your child is getting in trouble for using their phone in class, it’s often best to let the school handle the punishment. Unless they’re destroying property, hurting someone’s feelings, being bullied themselves, or their phone is affecting their class work, the school can handle things without you stepping in. It’s a good idea, though, to follow up with your child, their teacher, or school counselor to make sure that the problem isn’t still occurring.

Taking away their phone for a short time or limiting who they can text or accept calls from (you can contact your cell phone provider to do this) is also a way to punish your child if they break the rules. Phones are a privilege, and taking that away for a short time can send an effective message. If you do take away their phone, be clear about why they’re being punished, how long the punishment will last, and how you expect them to behave once they get their phone back.

You make rules because you want your child to be safe and respectful when they use their phone. If you’re concerned that they’re using their phone in an unsafe way, like using it to talk to people they don’t know or they’re bullying or being bullied through texts, phone calls, or social media. For these kinds of situations, there are a number of tools you can use to monitor your child’s phone activity. Obviously you want to respect your child’s privacy as much as possible, but if it’s a matter of safety then an adult needs to step in.

Tara Heath's picture

Tara Heath is a journalist who lives in California. She has a passion for health, parenting and education. She has a soft spot for children and the elderly and volunteers for numerous children and elderly functions.