In today’s society many people including teenagers view cell phones as a necessity of life. However, it’s a privilege and we need to remember that fact.

Many people have forgotten that cell phones are privileges especially teens and children in Middle School. This is a common argument I encounter between children and parents. The other argument that is common between parent and child is how much and where the cell phone is being used. Teens basically accuse parents of child abuse if they say no to a phone or if the parent sets limits. You are not being abusive, you are being a responsible parent. Remember being a parent is not a popularity contest. You need to do what you feel is best for your child.

This is an area where technology has moved faster than our ethics. If you think about it, IPhones and Smartphones were not around in the year 2000. Now everyone including a majority of teens have an IPhone or Smartphone. In my opinion an adolescent does not need a cell phone until they enter Middle School and at that point all they need is a basic cell phone. They need a basic phone so they can check-in with you if their plans change or if they feel they are in need of help.

There is no reason that a teenager really needs a Smartphone. They are not taking care of a family nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cell phone should be adequate for what they need it for. I understand that given the way our society has changed some parents may find that it is helpful to their family if a child in middle school has a cell phone. This is a decision that every parent needs to make based on their family’s situation.

The parent needs to make this decision, not let the child guilt them into buying them a cell phone. If you are divorced and have children, this may be extremely difficult, but the decision about if your child gets a cell phone or not, should be a joint decision by both parent and one you both agree on. One parent should not buy a cell phone without consulting the other parent and they should not use it as a weapon in the divorce.

If you decide that your middle school or high school aged child is mature enough for a cell phone, you should discuss the rules and guidelines about using the phone prior to getting a phone. Some things to discuss are who they give their cell number to, not texting during class or while driving and not taking it into the bedroom at night. Many kids will text with their friends until 2 or 3 am and then be too tired for school.

Also there should be a discussion about sharing photos. You never know what someone will do with a photo if they get mad with you. Also there needs to be a discussion about the law. It is not uncommon for teens to send their boyfriend/girlfriend nude photos of themselves. What they don’t understand is they are under the age of 18 years old. Therefore, if they have a nude picture of their 15 year old girlfriend, they can be charged with possession of child pornography. Many may say this won’t happen to me, but I have had a number of teens in psychotherapy because they were charged with having child pornography. Also you need to remember, once those pictures are out there they are out there forever. There also needs to be a discussion about on-line perpetrators too. There are many pedophiles on line trying to lure unsuspecting teens into their plans. Your children need to understand this is a real risk and what to watch for.

Finally, it should be made clear that the phone does not belong to the child — that the phone belongs to you the parent. If you ask for it back, then the child hands it over no questions asked. Also if you feel they are using their phone in an inappropriate manner, all you need to do is call your cellphone carrier and request that their phone line be suspended. It cost you nothing and it is an easy way to control the phone. When you feel that your child has earned the right to have the cellphone back all you do is call your carrier to reinstate that phone line.

It is very important that you and your teen have an agreement about conditions regarding their cellphone use. All of these conditions and agreements should be written down in an agreement that you sign and the child signs. You each get a copy of the agreement and one copy is posted on the refrigerator. If there are any disputes about a rule, you simply go back to the agreement and you follow what is written. A written agreement is very important because I have seen parents have conversations, make agreements and then 6 months later there is a disagreement and everyone’s memory is slightly different so you have a big fight.

Also given how many adults have gotten into trouble with their Smartphones, if you are going to allow your child to use any kind of cell phone you must discuss the pros and cons so the child does not get into major trouble with the phone.

Below I have included a sample contract that you can use with your child and modify as you need. I will not bring my cell phone to the family dinner table. I will not go over our plan’s monthly minutes or text message limits. If I do, I understand that I may be responsible for paying any additional charges or that I may lose my cell phone privileges. I understand that I am responsible for knowing where my phone is, and for keeping it in good condition. I understand that my cell phone may be taken away if I talk back to my parents, I fail to do my chores, or I fail to keep my grades up.

I will obey rules of etiquette regarding cell phones in public places. I will make sure my phone is turned off when I am in church, in restaurants, or quiet settings. I will obey any rules my school has regarding cell phones, such as turning them off during class, or keeping them on vibrate while riding the school bus. I promise I will alert my parents when I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages from people I don’t know I will also alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cell phone. I will not use my cell phone to bully another.

I will send no more than _____ texts per day I understand that having a cell phone can be helpful in a emergency, but I know that I must still practice good judgment and make good choices that will keep me out of trouble or out of danger.

I will not send embarrassing photos of my family or friends to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others. I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, my cell phone privilege may be revoked.

Cell Phone Contract: Parent Responsibilities I understand that I will make myself available to answer any questions my tween might have about owning a cell phone and using it responsibly. I will support my child when he or she alerts me to an alarming message or text message that he or she has received. I will alert my child if our cell phone plan changes and impacts the plan’s minutes I will give my child _______ warning(s) before I take his or her cell phone away Signed ______________________________ (Tween) Signed ______________________________ (Parents) Date ______________________________

Dr. Michael Rubino has been working with middle school and high school students for over 19 years. He is considered an expert in this field. Dr. Rubino is one of the founding members of the National Alive & Free Program, a program designed to work with teens. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website at http://www.rcs-ca.com or follow him on Twitter @RubinoTherapy.

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