Parents, teenagers and experts all over the world have concluded that smartphones are the most influential means of communication among young people, as well as a key platform for spending their leisure time. While some researchers don’t find this situation alarming, others advocate that parents need to get cell phone usage under control to minimize the potential for problematic situations. So when you buy a gadget as a present, it’s probably a good idea to introduce some cell phone rules for teens, you can read a few ideas below. Implementing them might be not as easy as it sounds though. As ever with rules and teens, you’ll need to be ready to stand by the rules and consequences you set.
Where to start?
To start with, let’s clarify two key issues for parents before introducing a new mobile phone policy to the rest of the family.
- First, keep in mind your child imitates everything you say and do. Sometimes it might not seem like your teen is taking their cues from you, but they are. Ultimately your example is the biggest one they have and their understanding of what’s normal or what’s acceptable is founded in what they see you doing. If you take calls while driving, don’t expect your teen to behave any differently.
- Secondly, where possible establish the rules from the first day you give the cell phone to your child. These rules should come naturally and be accepted as ‘this is the way the things are done in our family’. If you come up with a list of rules in response to bad behaviour they’re often seen as a punishment rather than the norm.
5 basic cell phone rules for teens to be observed
Rule #1 No mobile phones in the bedroom at night time
Why is this important? Proper sleep is extremely important for teenagers and their healthy growth. Sleep habits influence the quality of sleep. Moreover, sleep patterns are shaped when kids are growing and can then last into their adult years. It’s amazing how much sleep is lost due to mobiles. Teens often stay up later if they have their phone handy, chatting or playing till the small hours. Perhaps even worse, a huge number of teens wake in the night to check notifications or messages or to check into online games. No wonder they’re exhausted in the morning and find it hard to concentrate at school. Better to leave phone usage for daytime.
What is the best way to enforce the rule? Everybody in the family (parents too) should put their mobile phones in one place, let it be the kitchen or living room. The devices can be charged overnight. Be an example and start observing the rule yourself first. Often we excuse the bedtime presence of mobiles as “it’s our alarm clock”. It doesn’t have to be. Buy an alarm clock that isn’t a mobile phone, it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Potential child’s reaction: Your teen might use the same excuse, so get them an alarm clock too. They might also object that their friends are allowed to use mobiles at night. Emphasise the reason for the rule (phones distract from good sleep which is important for being effective and getting the most out of your day), point out your own compliance with the rule and if needed fall back on good ole “I’m not responsible for your friends, but I am responsible for you”.
Rule # 2 Follow school cell phone rules
Why is this important? Usually each school works out their own policy in terms of cell phone usage. Get familiar with the rules your school has in place and let your child know that they are expected to obey them. Not only will following these rules keep them on the right side of their teachers and enable them to focus on their school work properly, it also puts them in good stead for potential college or employment positions with similar policies.
What is the best way to enforce the rule? If you want to make certain your child doesn’t use the phone at all when at school, you could have them leave it at home. They could collect it as soon as they come back from lessons. If on the other hand you’d prefer to be able to keep in touch with your teen during school time, you might want to use parental control software like Kidslox to block entertainment apps according to the pre-set schedule while leaving the ability to call or text you if necessary.
Potential child’s reaction: If your teen finds this rule hard to accept, point them back towards the school rules. You didn’t make those up, you’re just helping your child to stick to them.
Rule #3 No mobiles during family time
Why is this important? Perhaps you’ve noticed that your teen can’t put down their phone and interact with you during dinner, family days or any other kind of family time? If you want to spend quality time together as a family, without interference from texting, gaming or liking Instagram pictures, let that time be device-free.
What is the best way to enforce the rule? One way to help make sure this rule works is to make sure that “family time” is well defined. If mealtimes are always family time and phones aren’t allowed during family time, the rule isn’t left with too many vague gray boundaries for teens to push at. Some people like to have a special phone box where all family members store their mobiles while eating. If you’re going out somewhere together, have them leave their devices in the car once you reach your destination.
Potential child’s reaction: Meal times are the classic situation for the old “let me just finish this level” or “5 more minutes mum, please”. Where possible give a warning a few minutes before you want them to come so that they know their time is coming to a close.
Rule #4 No picture messaging
Why is this important: Teens today snap photos of everything and this might be a hard rule for some to accept. Visual communication has become a key part of modern messaging, which is why you may not want to use this rule with your teens. If you want to place an emphasis on safety though, note that some statistics suggest 39% of teens have sent sext messages containing explicit images. Not only does this behaviour leave them especially vulnerable to bullying and blackmail if the receiver shares the images or threatens to do so, it can even lead to cases of online grooming and other predatory behaviour.
What is the best way to enforce the rule: If you basically trust your teen in this area, you might just want to explicitly reserve the right to occasionally look through their social media accounts. This just acts as a reminder that if they wouldn’t want you to see something, they shouldn’t be posting it to anyone else either. If you want to try and place an all out ban on picture messaging it’s actually quite challenging to completely enforce. Try using parental controls to block the devices camera or to make sure that apps whose sole function is picture messaging don’t get installed
Potential child’s reaction: This rule is likely to get a lot of kick back from some teens and almost none from others. You’ll need to decide whether the hard or light version of the rule is more appropriate in your case. If they demonstrate a certain amount of responsibility in this area and an understanding of the risks, be willing to become more flexible with this rule to allow them to join in with peer communication.
Rule # 5 Check if all phone contacts are real friends or members of the family
Why is this important? Kids often have over 300 random contacts in their cell phone address book and think nothing of it. Handing over contact details seems to have become the first thing people do on making a new acquaintance. Children in particular are often eager to give their number to all their classmates as well as more distant acquaintances they hardly know. All of those people can then easily get in touch with your kids at any time.
What is the best way to enforce the rule? When your child is at a high school you’d hope that they’re mature enough that you can trust them to be sensible about who they add to their contact list. It’s not always the case though. In this case and while they’re still tweens, you should definitely look through their list every once in a while. On top of that, encourage them to spring clean their social media friends lists every once in a while. If they can’t remember who a person is, if they’ve never met the person in real life or if they’ve never once had a written communication with someone, chances are they shouldn’t be in that friends list. You might want to consider having a similar spring clean of your own contacts…
Potential child’s reaction: If you introduce a rule like this at the same time they get their first phone, it’s likely to be an accepted part of phone ownership. If you introduce it later on it might meet a little more resistance. Remind them about the dangers posed by internet predators and emphasise that the size of their friends list is no reflection of what they’re like as a person. It’s far better to have a small group of real friends in your list than thousands of unknown strangers.
Introducing cell phone rules for teens
One way you could try introducing some of the rules suggested above is to create a cell phone contract for teens containing all the rules along with results of breaking them. Try setting these rules in conversation with your teen about what they think is reasonable. However you establish the rules, make sure that you explain some of the reasoning behind them so that your teen understands that they’re not rules for the sake of rules but that they have specific aims to assist and protect them.