Imagine this scenario: It’s late at night and your phone lights up on the nightstand next to you. You open the text to read the following message: 

“Hey, I just saw photos of your daughter being shared on social media, and I don’t think you want these photos out there!”

What follows is a flurry of emotions, including panic, as you attempt to figure out what has happened and how you can make this potentially life-altering situation go away.

Today, more than ever, access to technology that connects us to the world is at our fingertips. This is also the case for our youth. According to a survey by Common Sense Media in 2019 53% of kids owned a smartphone by age 11 and 84% of teenagers had their own phone.

With this access comes a myriad of challenges, even dangers, for kids and young adults learning the responsibility of this type of technology. Like the scenario above, one of those dangers is the permanence of information and personal “footprints” (like photos or videos) once it hits the internet.  

So, what is a parent to do? It is becoming increasingly difficult to cut off phone access to our sons and daughters. Can there be an alternative solution?  

How about a cell phone contract?  Let’s unpack what a phone contract is and if it is appropriate for teens…

Is my teenager old enough for a smartphone?

Before we talk about contracts, let’s examine smartphone “readiness.” If there was a clear starting age for teens to begin using a mobile phone it would be a lot easier on parents!

Unfortunately there is not a precise, definitive age for handing a phone over to your teen.  Since teens mature (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) at different rates, it becomes an individualized decision based on parental guidelines or feelings.

A popular method of assessing readiness is allowing short, supervised opportunities with the technology. Think of this as “dipping the toe into the pool vs. diving right in.”  

As a teen repetitively demonstrates appropriate phone usage over time, this may be an indicator of handing over increased privileges. Keep in mind that with access to a smart phone comes a world of apps, websites, videos, games, and other activities at their fingertips!  

You will need to be ready to troubleshoot and dialogue over the accessibility to the digital world the more you open this door.

Pros of a cell phone contract for my teen

A cell phone contract is an agreement between an adult (usually a parent or responsibility-bearing adult) and a teen. This agreement sets some ground rules or “norms” for the teen using the phone. 

An internet search using the key phrase phone contract for teens will yield many variations of these contracts.

What are the PROS of a cell phone contract for your teen?  

Well, for one, it opens a conversation lane between you and your teen. An agreement, like a contract, allows a space and direction for parents to intentionally dialogue with their son or daughter about the topic of adult privileges being practiced in the home.  

Another benefit of a contract is shared understanding of expectations. Let’s face it: the adult world is filled with expectations and their associated consequences so why not “kickstart” that life lesson right in your own home? By developing a mutual set of expectations, you will be giving your teen a crack at adulting and he/she will need all the reps they can get!

Cons of a cell phone contract for my teen

If there are pros to a smart phone contract then there must be CONS, right? Here are a couple of pitfalls to watch out for.

First, beware the language you use when it comes to agreements with teens!  

This generation of youth is more clued in than ever on the language we use around them and because of this, your language will matter. If a contract comes across as a rule-bound dictatorship, be prepared for push back. Teens are feeling that the world is already putting too many parameters in their personal space. A careful approach to collaborative language may be the better tactic.  

Also, be prepared for the agreement/contract to be broken…a lot. As teens are still learning HOW to follow guidelines. they will have multiple moments of both accidental and willful departure from guidance.  Be prepared to navigate through the times they fall short in following the rules of the smartphone game!

Guidelines of a teen cell phone contract

If you are jumping into a contract with your son or daughter, here are 4 things to keep in mind:

  • Keep language clear – use simple and concise statements that convey your wishes. A paragraph is less useful than a sentence in this instance.
  • Check for understanding – review the agreement with your teen and check for their understanding of your intent. Oftentimes, what a teenager interprets can be disconnected from our original intent. Make sure he/she can repeat back to you the “spirit” of your guidelines.
  • Review periodically – don’t make a contract a “one and done” situation.  The teenage brain requires repetition and, just like at school, repetition drives deeper-level thinking. Revisit the contract every so often and dialogue about how it is going.
  • Praise twice as much as you criticize – As mentioned above, there will be mess ups. Learn to embrace the “oops” moments with gentle correction while praising the contract-following twice as much. You may find that your teen is motivated by doing well with this responsibility and becomes eager to demonstrate their compliance.

Parental responsibilities 

The choice to wade into the murky, often turbulent, waters of smartphone ownership with teens may not be an easy choice in your home.  Know that you are not alone! Parents have been discovering the need for help in this arena for years. In fact, there is some responsibility that we as parents need to take.  

Make sure you have educated yourself on safeguarding software/apps: for every malicious person or entity lurking on the internet, there are just as many people/companies looking to help!  

Be sure to find out what current apps are being used to increase the likelihood that your son/daughter will remain safe in their smartphone use.  

Finally, if you are reading this and you would identify your home as a Christian home, then bring Christ into the equation. Jesus provides us with powerful examples of how we should treat others with respect and love. His life and ministry can be applied to smartphone etiquette and use despite the fact that Jesus never powered up a phone! 

Explore how showing God’s love in practical ways can be woven into smartphone use with your teen, and you will have an edge on the challenges this piece of technology brings.

About the Author: Jim Damman
You won’t find a larger campus pastor “geek” than Jim Damman! Jim is a self-proclaimed expert in cinema, board games, and anything from the 80s. Jim was a special education teacher for 17 years before being called into vocational ministry and moving from the country life to the Great Lakes Bay area as he helped plant our Saginaw campus. Jim is a father of five and spends his free time dissecting movies, playing the latest board games, and enjoying family time any chance he gets!

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