Almost every teen walking out of high school seems to have a smartphone in their grasp. According to Pew Research Center, a whopping 73 percent of teens have a smartphone within their grasp. And access to a smartphone means a door to the wired world including social media, the internet, games, and texting. The smartphone has evolved into a digital extension of a teen’s social world because many of them communicate via text and congregate in the corridors of social media.
While the smartphone has allowed for instant communication between teens and their friends, their digital device also comes with a serious caveat—many teens cannot separate from their phones. The smartphone is so ingrained in social behavior that it has left many teens—arguably 50 percent if you believe the findings—with an outright smartphone addiction.
That’s right…our teens are becoming addicted to their phones. Like a drug. Or alcohol. There is a digital dependence that is apparently hitting dopamine buttons in the teen brain. And parents are often left in disbelief.
However, the virtual glass isn’t half empty. And while many teens are seemingly inseparable from their phones, parents who are considering making a smartphone purchase for their teens shouldn’t assume the new device will lead to eventual digital detox. Before you drop a new device into a tween or teen’s hand, there is one agreement that you—and your child—should both sign in before that phone hits the network.
A cell phone contract is one of the most important written agreements parents will seal with their child. But this contract is very different than one you may have with a network provider. A cell phone contract outlines the details of a teen’s responsibilities for having access to their own smartphone.
The Fine Print
So what exactly is found in a cell phone contract? Really, the wording is left to parents. However, most cell phone contracts include limitations of use, social responsibility stipulations, details about lost/broken/stolen phones and consequences for contract violations.
Limitations of cell phone use are necessary for most tweens and teens…even Bill Gates regulates screen time for his kids. The cell phone contract should stipulate when smartphone use is prohibited and what apps may be downloaded. Many families specify in the contract that phones are not permitted during mealtimes or while at family gathers. Cell phone contracts often add time limitations—as in, the phone must be powered off after 9 p.m. If you don’t want your child to have their phone in their bedroom at night, you may add that detail in the contract as well.
Cell phone contracts also should emphasize a teen’s social responsibility while using their phone. Bullying, harassment or any inappropriate messages should not be tolerated. Teens should not be permitted to use their phone to abuse, harass or bully another individual. Their phone also should not be used as a means for others to abuse them…be sure to also include information about what your child should do if they receive threatening or inappropriate messages or content or if they feel unsafe or harassed.
Sometimes cell phones may end up damaged, broken, lost or stolen. Discuss responsibility in the contract and outline which party will be responsible for repairs or replacement costs. Make sure your teen understands these obligations.
All cell phone contracts should have a section that outlines the consequences for contract violations. Parents can tailor consequences for different violations. While the consequence for downloading an inappropriate app may be that the teen loses access to games on their phone, while the consequence for cyberbullying may mean having their phone revoked.
Most teens have a smartphone, but this device is a want…not a need! Parents should create a cell phone contract to ensure that their teen knows the rules and responsibilities of having their own smartphone. And, of course, teens also should understand that violating the contract leads to consequences. By setting firm limitations with digital devices, parents can help teens learn responsibility and moderation…without falling into cell phone addiction!