Monday, January 28, 2019

Getting My Daughter a Smartphone: 6 Months Later

When "everyone" else started getting a cell phone when my daughter was in 6th grade, I didn't pay too much attention.

(If parenting for the last 11 years had taught me anything, it's that kids exaggerate and "everyone" means any number of people greater than 4 or 5.)

I don't know, maybe some of those kids genuinely did need phones. Maybe they were shuttling between divorced parents' houses every day or frequently needed to be picked up in a cornfield at an undetermined time at the spur of the moment.

Regardless of their reasons, I knew my daughter didn't need one. 

She was either at school or at home, with a regular schedule so I always knew when I needed to pick her up from after-school activities.

The odd time she had to call me was once every couple of months, and since "everyone" had a phone, she could easily borrow a friend's or (gasp!) ask to use the one in the school office.

You know, the big ones on the wall we used in the olden days.

My teenager was literally the last of her friends to get a cell phone the summer before freshman year. We could have caved and given our teen a smartphone years before that, but here's why we waited and why we thought 14 was the right age to get a cell phone. #parentingteens #cellphonerules

In Which I Find Out My Daughter Isn't Lying

By 8th grade, we were still holding out and even other parents were having conniptions about it.

I ran into another mom at the grocery store a few days after our daughters left on a weeklong class trip to Washington, D.C. who asked, "How's your daughter doing?"

You should have seen the panic on her face when I said I didn't know.

"What!? You mean you haven't heard from her?!?"

I shrugged, saying something like "I assume that means everything is fine!"

And then it dawned on me that the idea of my 8th grader not bringing her own personal phone on the trip hadn't even occurred to this other mom.

It looked like my daughter was right and "everyone" indeed had a phone. How did she feel about that?

She acknowledged it would be a cool thing to have, but also seemed to understand it was basically an expensive extra. Really, she didn't seem too worried about the whole thing so neither were we.

We Finally Cave to Societal Expectations

Things started changing in the summer before 9th grade.

My daughter was having trouble communicating with her friends, who all had phones but never answered them. They only texted. (I don't get it, but whatever.) We talked about it a few times, and I noticed her looking up the cost of cell phone plans.

At the same time, her cross-country team started running every day at a local park and practice usually finished early or late. On top of that, they used a text alert system (and nothing else) to advise team members of schedule changes and other notifications.

It was starting to feel like a phone was now more of a genuine need. After all, I certainly didn't want to be the one fielding all her texts about cross-country.

I still wan't jazzed about all the baggage that comes with handing a teen a smartphone (Cyberbullying! Anxiety and depression! Screen addiction!) but even I had to admit it was probably time.

What Rules are Appropriate for Teens With Cell Phones?

We found a phone at a good deal and a $30/month plan through Republic Wireless, but before we just handed it over I wanted to lay out the rules very clearly.

I read a ton of cell phone contracts on the Internet. I thought the idea of signing a contract with my 14-year-old was silly, but what I gathered from my research was that we needed to set rules in four different areas: phone ownership, charging, and inappropriate times/places/ways to use the phone.

When it was the right time to get our kid a cell phone, I read a TON of cell phone contracts on the Internet. I knew we needed clear, age-appropriate rules before giving her a smartphone. Here is our master list of cell phone rules for teens and tweens! #teens #tweens

Cell Phone Rule #1: Phone Ownership

It was important to us for our daughter to know she didn't own the phone, and therefore wasn't entitled to use it however she wanted. Phillip and I (who paid for both the phone and the monthly plan) would happily allow her to use it for as long as she followed the rules we set.

As the owners of the phone, we check it periodically and she needs our permission before she downloads or installs new apps on it.

We will not, however, replace or repair it if she loses or breaks it. She bought a case and screen protector with her own money, and it's her responsibility to fix or replace if she finds herself with a broken or vanished phone.

Cell Phone Rule #2: Charging

I know a lot of people (myself included) who use cell phones as their alarm clock, but I don't think it's a good idea for kids to have phones in their rooms overnight.

Parents should designate a place to charge the phone in either their (the parents') bedroom or in the main living area of the house, as well as a time by which it must be put away for the night. For us, it's in the kitchen by 9 PM.

Cell Phone Rule #3: Phone Use

The hours between 9 PM and 7 AM are off-limits for talking and texting on our daughter's phone, or using the Internet at all for non-schoolwork.

She can't bring the phone to the dinner table or use it during family time, church, or during class at school unless the teacher approves it.

Just as we keep the computer in a public area of the home to ensure appropriate Internet use, the smartphone (a.k.a: a tiny computer) isn't allowed in the bedroom or bathroom.

In our family it goes without saying that cyberbullying or looking at porn would automatically revoke her phone privileges, but we made sure to point that out, too.

(Click here to download the free printable version of these teen cell phone rules!)
When we gave our teen her first cell phone, we knew we had to start with clear rules and expectations for carrying a smartphone. After tons of research, I came up with a list of essential cell phone rules for teens and tweens - 6 months later, our house rules are working out perfectly. #cellphonecontract #parenting

Six Months Later

That was in late August, so it's been six months since my daughter joined "everyone" and carries around a phone in her pocket.

It's going better than I thought it would. She's not glued to the screen every waking hour (although I'm not going to lie, she does take an inordinate number of BuzzFeed quizzes.)

We've never had to suspend phone privileges, but we wouldn't hesitate to if she broke the rules. A few times she's been caught on the phone after 9 PM, the consequence for which is going to bed immediately. She normally sets her own bedtime so you can imagine she did not like that (which is probably why it's only happened twice.)

While writing this, I asked my daughter what she thought of the rules. She said she didn't think they were "too strict" and we didn't "stalk her every text" (which is true; we check it but since she's given us no reason to distrust her we're not all CSI about it.)

Not being able to take the phone in private means that if she puts on a YouTube video the other 5 kids prick up their ears and come running, which she says is annoying. But I think she understands our reasons for that particular rule and is willing to follow them because she's a good kid.

My takeaway is this: I think entering into this strange new world with crystal clear expectations for our teenager was key, as is having a good parent-child relationship so we can trust her to meet them.

At age 14, our daughter was the last of "everyone" to get a phone the summer before 9th grade, but that turned out to be just right for us, and I don't think I'd change a thing if we went back and did it again.

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Diana Dye said...

I'm glad it's working. I'm a few years away with my oldest using her own phone. Just curious, did you consider a non-smart phone phone for her?

Rachel said...

I think your rules are very practical and sensible. Honestly, we have a no-screens in the bedroom policy for ourselves (which is pretty easy because we don't use alarms anyways, we have a baby for that). My sister just got her first phone, a smartphone, for her 16th birthday, and it was actually purchased for her by one of our other sisters who lives in the USA, because she wanted MG to contact her more frequently and take photos of her artwork and life because she missed her sister. The kid still barely checks her phone...more likely I check it and let her know she has five messages from various relatives to respond to.

Jenny Evans said...

If she'd been younger or for any reason we thought she couldn't handle using the Internet appropriately we would have, but we figured if we were getting her a phone at age 14 it may as well be a smartphone.

I lived with a dumphone for years before getting a smartphone and it was kind of a pain not being able to pull up an email or look up addresses when I wasn't at home, and since my daughter manages her own schedule I think she'd run into many of the same issues. For instance, in a few years she'll be driving and GPS/maps on her phone will come in handy.

So no, for her we really didn't. But I would have if she'd been in middle school.

Kristina said...

My husband and I have flip phones. We have internet at home and it doesn't make sense for us to have Smartphones. But for a while we didn't have cell phones at all and it really does make a difference in communicating with people because people like to use text for everything. So I feel a little more connected to people now that we can text.

AnneMarie said...

These rules sound very reasonable, and I'm glad to hear that things are going well with her and the phone! It is so interesting to see how the landscape has changed in the last decade-I didn't get a cell phone until I went off to college, and while I did miss out on some things during high school since I didn't have a phone, I was able to get along without one perfectly fine (though I will confess, it was annoying to constantly be borrowing my friend's cell phones to call my parents for a ride and that kind of thing). But now, it really does sound like things are a lot different. One of my brothers is in high school, and he has a simple phone because with sports practices and other activities, it just makes a lot more sense.

Nikki Sanders said...

Some solid rules. I'm terrified of this situation when my baby girl gets older (approaching 2 years old!), but this is helpful. Will have to save your rules for the future and try to be strong when "everyone" has everything she doesn't, lol.

PurpleSlob said...

Perfect rules. So glad she's responsible in following them!

Jenny Evans said...

In 10 years, will we even have cell phones? She'll probably be begging you for the microchip everyone else has or something...

Jenny Evans said...

Us, too. She's a very good kid.

April said...

We gave my oldest son a phone when he was ten. I was just starting to leave him at home alone or watching you her siblings for very short periods of time, and we don’t have a house phone, so he needed to be able to contact me. He’s not on a plan, and can only call me or text me when he’s on wifi. He’s 11 now, and I’ve been leaving for a couple of hours for work fairly often, and now my nine year old will take his phone and call me. Mostly my eleven year old just wants to play games on it. I have screen time limits on it so he can’t play for very long each day, and it locks him out oh everything except calls and texts at 8 pm. Very few of his friends have phones yet, so he doesn’t really text anyone other than me, and occasionally grandma. Maybe we’ll get him on a plan in high school, but in the meantime, he only uses his phone at home.

Christina said...

Thank you for this! We are giving our daughter cell phone privlidges for her 14th birthday, which is just days before she starts 9th grade. I wanted to type up a set of guidelines but was looking for inspiration to word it appropriately. This was perfect, and completely in line with what we had in mind. We so appreciate your sharing this!

Unknown said...

During our granddaughter retreat the four girls were talking about their social media use. I was so impressed by one thing she said. She said that if she notices she is spending too much time on it her solution isn't necessarily setting some arbitrary limit for herself. But rather figuring out why she is doing that. Makes for a better solution. We adults could use some if that thinking. Mom