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5 tips for parents of teens with smartphones

Most teens have cell phones. What is the right age to get your child one? What is the appropriate use of the phone? How involved should parents be? These are common questions parents have. Check this blog out for tips for parents.
by Michelle Sutherlin Modified: April 21, 2014 at 10:23 am •  Published: April 21, 2014

photo - Photo via
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When my son entered third grade (yes, third grade) some of his friends started using cell phones. I’ll never forget driving through the pick-up line one spring afternoon and seeing a third-grade girl in Ryan’s class whip out an iPhone and make a call.

I was still at the point in my life where I swore that my children would get their first cell phones when they began driving. I mean, why else would anyone need a phone?

By the time my son was in fifth grade, nearly all students had cell phones. My husband and I still stuck to our guns. We couldn’t imagine why our 11-year-old would need a phone. I mean, where would he be that an adult with a phone wouldn’t be nearby? We knew all his friends and their parents. We stayed at his athletic practices. It just wasn’t necessary.

But I knew by the time he hit middle school, he would be one of the only students to not have one. And, I also knew there would be times when he truly would be on his own or with people with whom I wasn’t as familiar with. So by the end of fifth grade, I caved in and managed to convince my husband to let him have a phone.

We didn’t buy him a new one. We gave him a double hand me down iPhone. That way, he could play the games he wanted, text and have a phone. We also activated the parental controls offered by our phone provider.

But before we gave him a phone, we decided to do a few things that I want to share with you. We are not even a full year into having a teen with a phone, so these aren’t perfect and we don’t do them perfectly all the time, but they are a start.

1. Set up boundaries for the phone before getting one

I was lucky enough to read a great blog by a parent who created a Cell Phone Contract with her teen son. It was so good I used it and adapted it for my son.

Some of the highlights are that the phone belongs to the parent and the child gets to borrow it; the parent always knows the password and can take the phone and look at it at any time; the phone is turned in at the end of the day and does not go to bed with the child; the phone must be used for good and not evil; and many more boundaries.

I have said before and I will say again how important boundaries are for teens. They say they don’t want them, but they need them. Setting boundaries for your child shows them that you care enough about them to set limits on what is OK and what is not OK.

2. Teach your child how to use the phone

Now, I don’t mean the physical use. They probably already know better than you do. I mean how to use the phone responsibly. Think of it this way: driver’s licenses aren’t issued until a person can prove they know how to drive and obey traffic laws. Someone has to teach a person to drive. You can’t just toss them the keys and wish them luck.

The same goes for responsible use of technology. My husband and I gave our son a phone in May and used the summer to teach him how and how not to use it. The cell phone contract we created helped us immensely. But, we can’t expect a pre-teen or teen to magically know the right and wrong things to do with a phone the first time they get one. Monitor your child’s use. Look at the Internet history. Have all the passwords to all the apps. And talk to your child about it a lot.

3. Don’t be afraid to take the phone away

I sure hate to be the bad guy and take the phone away. But, I have to teach my son how to responsibly use his phone, and if the rules of the contract are broken, or if the phone is used inappropriately, we have to take it away.

Following through on the promise of taking the phone away is 99 percent of the battle. If you say you are going to do something and then don’t do it, your child will learn that there really aren’t consequences for his/her actions and will easily break the rules again. When you follow through on a consequence, you are keeping a promise and setting a boundary for your child.

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by Michelle Sutherlin
NewsOK Contributor
Michelle Sutherlin is a middle school counselor in Norman, OK, who works with students ages 11-15 daily. She is also a mom to two boys, Ryan (12) and Will (9). She and her husband have been married for 16 years. She loves middle school students so...
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