Kids are using smartphones at increasingly younger ages. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds using smartphones climbed from 71 to 84 percent, while the number of children under 11 using smartphones rose from 28.7 to 41 percent. The average age for a child getting their own smartphone is now 10.3 years old, Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study found. 39 percent of kids have a social media account at 11.4 years, and 11 percent have one before they reach the age of 10.
Meanwhile, children are increasingly unsupervised online, with the number of parents who impose strict limits on their children’s smartphone behavior dropping from 49 to 41 percent between 2012 and 2016. The consequences of these trends are that 22 percent of teens admit to having sent inappropriate text messages and pictures, and 75 percent admit to texting while driving. To protect your teen from potentially dangerous behavior, it’s crucial to teach them behavioral boundaries early.
Here are four steps for setting up a smartphone contract with your teen:
1) Establish Behavior Boundaries
Ideally, you should decide on behavior boundaries well before your child gets his or her first smartphone. Make a list of items that need to be included in the contract. The list should include:
Acceptable and prohibited locations for phone use (such as policies for family meal time and school)
Acceptable and prohibited hours for phone use (both at home and at school)
Number of allowed phone minutes per day
Inappropriate sites that should not be accessed
Inappropriate texting and photo-sharing
Parental password and fingerprint scanning access
Parental access to social media profiles and passwords
After you’ve drawn up a list to your own satisfaction, it’s important to secure your child’s agreement. Discuss each of the items with them. Then have them write up the contract in their own words, with your editing input. For example: “I will not use my phone to send inappropriate text messages or photos.”
2) Set Financial Policies and Budget Boundaries
It’s also important to consider financial issues and boundaries. How much can you afford to budget per month for your child’s phone bill? How many minutes of phone use can you afford to allow them? How much of their bill are you willing to pay for?
As you’re drawing up a budget, look for an affordable smartphone plan that won’t come with any financial surprises. For instance, T-Mobile One lets you know clearly up front how much you’re paying per line with taxes and fees included. Having this type of plan will allow you the flexibility to restrict or expand access privileges based on your teen’s performance of honoring their smartphone contract.
3) Establish Conditions for Phone Use Privileges
Your contract should clearly communicate that your teen’s smartphone use is a privilege contingent upon their behavior, not a right. For instance, you might require them to contribute a certain amount of their allowance toward their bill or work a certain number of hours to cover their bill. You might also require them to maintain a certain grade-point average and to finish their homework before going on the phone after school.
4) Set Consequences for Breach of Contract
You should also lay out firm consequences for your teen violating the terms of their contract. Decide which behaviors will incur a warning and which ones will result in phone privileges being taken away. Determine if penalties for violations will escalate after a first incident and what will happen after each violation. Establish how long the phone will be taken away when violations occur.
It’s important to choose punishments you intend to enforce. Make the consequences realistic. And include a provision that as the parent, you have the right to update the terms of the contract at any time for any reason.
Roy Rasmussen, co-author of "Publishing for Publicity," is a freelance copywriter who helps small businesses get more customers and make more sales. His specialty is helping experts reach their target market with a focused sales message. His most recent projects include books on cloud computing, small business management, sales, and business coaching.