There comes a time when your kids will ask you for a cell phone. For most of us, that time comes earlier than expected. My oldest son didn’t get a cell phone until he was 16. My middle son didn’t get a cell phone until he was 13. And my youngest son got one when he turned 10.
Why such a difference?
Times have changed.
When my oldest was in his teenage years most kids didn’t have cell phones. There was little social pressure for him to get one.
My middle son had an iPod touch for several years which was basically a cell phone minus the cellular plan. He proved he could handle that responsibility and there was starting to be more social pressure from friends.
My youngest son has always used my wife’s tablet from a young age. All of his friends have cell phones. He has proven to be very responsible with technology and some events happened that my wife wanted to be able to contact him at any time.
Now the social pressure from friends did not factor into our decision to get them a cell phone. It just meant they were asking for one at an earlier age.
And lately, we like the idea of our kids having phones for safety reasons. We can install tracking apps like Life 360 so we know where our kids are at all times. This might sound weird and maybe a little overkill but with the rise in child abductions and also kids who just have no sense, knowing exactly where they are is a must.
No matter what age you decide to give a child a cell phone there must be rules around their usage and guidance to keep them safe and protected.
Cell phone rules for all ages
Let your child know that having a cell phone is a privilege and that privilege can be taken away at any time. When giving one of my kids a cell phone I don’t even hand it to them without explaining this and what it means.
Absolutely no inappropriate content
One of the things that I had not really thought about was that having the internet in your pocket means you have access to the darkest parts of the internet IN YOUR POCKET.
Growing up we had pornography. I had friends that got a hold of either magazines or movies and we watched it. But it wasn’t easy. Someone had to know someone or risk getting in trouble because they stole it from their own parents/siblings.
But having a phone you could do a few searches and have all that pornography in the palm of your hand. Luckily there are parental controls and apps that can limit this but the thought that it is readily accessible is enough to make you reconsider giving your kids a phone.
Parents have full access to the phone
One of the hardest rules for my kids to understand is that they don’t actually own the phone. It is my phone and I pay the bill so therefore I am only allowing them to use this device.
And with this, my wife or I can ask for the phone and take a look at whatever is on the phone. Including conversations they may be having with other people. I don’t like doing this but if I ask for their phone and they are hesitant or trying to hide something then I need to dig deeper.
My middle son had issues with this. One time my wife randomly asked him for his phone. He freaked out. He knew he was doing things on his phone he shouldn’t have and was trying to hide it. After an intense verbal exchange, he finally handed it over and immediately went to his room.
He knew that he was looking at things he wasn’t supposed to. We checked his browser history and a few chat histories and he lost his phone for a month. After this, we didn’t have any issues. But we monitored it closely.
I know people will disagree with this rule. The kids will hate it. But this rule will help keep your kids out of trouble and from going down a path that can get them in a lot of trouble.
No phone at school
This one might not be such an issue as most schools don’t allow cell phones and can result in a suspension. But it’s one that needs to be included in this list and made known upfront. If they never had a cell phone before they may not know what the school rules are.
They are allowed to take them with them to school. But they must be turned off and put in the bottom of their backpack. There have been times when having a phone at school was beneficial in cases of early dismissal or other emergencies but for the most part, they should never need them.
Don’t be a jerk with the camera
Don’t take pictures of others without asking. If you see someone doing something stupid don’t have your camera out and video the whole thing.
They should not be taking any inappropriate pictures of themselves or other people regardless of whether there is consent.
Never upload pictures to the internet unless they are absolutely sure they will not regret it. Pictures on the internet are never temporary. Even if an app promises they are. Screenshots can be taken and that picture will last forever.
Don’t answer unknown numbers
Unknown numbers are more than likely telemarketers or spam calls. Just let them go to voice mail. Tell them to immediately check if a voicemail is left just in case you have to call them from a number that is not in their contacts.
The same goes for text messages. Hackers and spammers are using texting techniques to trick users into clicking on links that they don’t want to click on. If you don’t know the sender just delete or ignore the text.
All contacts should be correctly labeled with the person’s name. No nicknames or vague names should be used. The contacts should also be only friends or family.
You may take this to an extreme and review their contact list with them and approve who gets added. And if you don’t recognize a name ask them who that person is.
Reporting inappropriate content
Your kids should report anything inappropriate sent to them or said to them over the phone. They should never hide this because if someone were to find out it could make it worse.
Help them understand that when this happens it is ok and that they will not get in trouble unless it is found that they instigated the exchange.
No cell phone in their room at bedtime
By letting them have the cell phone in their room there is a temptation to stay up all night and be on their phone. Kids need their sleep so we ask that they don’t keep their phones in their room. We place a charging station in the dining room on a desk for them to plug up at night.
I might let them break this rule during summer break from school. If there is no expectation for them to get up in the morning. But I would only allow this for my older kids (16 – 18).
Cell phone rules for kids ages 10-13
Cell phones must be used in the open
This means they must not be in their room with the door closed or trying to hide their screen to conceal what they are doing.
The idea is if they are hiding when using their cell phone they are probably doing something they shouldn’t be. We have this same rule with our kids and any electronic device.
Cell phones cannot be used after 8 PM
At this age, they need to limit how late they are on their cell phone. We usually cut it off at 8 and make them plug it up for the night.
Cell phones are locked down completely
For this age group, we completely control what can be downloaded and what can be accessed on the internet. The major cell phone OSs have some type of parental controls now so this isn’t hard to set up.
On iPhones, any app download requires parental permission. He can view the store and click download but it then sends me a request to approve. I can approve and allow them to download or reject and we can talk about it for later approval if I find it questionable.
Cell phone rules for kids ages 13 – 16
Cell phones might be allowed in private
Depending on their maturity I might start letting them use their phones in private. This is the age where they might start “dating” or talking to the opposite sex at least.
Cell phones cannot be used after 9 PM
At this age, they need to limit how late they are on their cell phone. We usually cut it off at 9 and make them plug it up for the night but this might vary depending on their maturity.
May start loosening some restrictions
This is a hard age to let loose on some parental controls. I would suggest still leaving them on as this is the age I have seen the most issues at. They are really hitting puberty at this age and discovering and exploring things that the internet is not the place you want them to find it on.
Cell phone rules for kids ages 16 – 18
Once they hit this age I try to let them have a bit more freedom. If they have gotten this far without regularly losing privileges and have shown to treat it with respect I would let them have fewer controls.
The one thing I would suggest is to still periodically check their phones. You may not even need to check it just ask to see their phone and see how they react. If they refuse or are hesitant then you should definitely check what they have been doing. If they freely give it up then just give it back.
When they get a job you may consider having them pay for their own phone. If you have a family plan this is a minimal additional cost but it allows them to feel ownership. It also causes them to be a bit more responsible for their phone and keep them from breaking them.
Family Rules for Cell Phones
You may also have some family rules for cell phones. Things like no cell phones at dinner or during game night. These are for your family to decide as you want to apply this to you and your spouse also.
Another family rule might be they cannot access the phone until all homework is done or maybe put limits on the amount of screen time they can have.
You may also decide to let them have phones before they turn 10 or you decide they don’t get a phone until they are of driving age. Whatever you decide has to be done with your kid’s maturity in mind. Don’t let outside forces (including this blog post) influence your mind when it comes to what is best for your family.
Letting your kids have cell phones can be a scary proposition. It opens up a world of unknowns directly to their fingertips. But sometimes the safety and security of your kids having a cell phone is a risk versus reward situation.
Just remember to keep an open and honest conversation about what your expectations are. Don’t set cell phone rules that are arbitrary and don’t make any sense. Explain to them very clearly that there are dangers and that is why these rules exist. In fact, it might be better to explain them as guardrails. They are there to keep them on the right path in case they mess up.
Do you have any additional rules you would add? If so drop a comment or let us know on our Facebook page.