Creating a cell phone contract with kids is essentially building a document around the values that parents want to instill in their children. Before setting the cell phone contract in front of their tweens and teens, parents need to make decisions about a wide range of issues and answer questions, such as why they want their kids to have their own cell phones and how to teach their children to be safe using this complicated piece of technology.

Fortunately, these decisions and the resulting discussions can be guided by the process of building a cell phone contract. As parents finish a first draft, the discussion about each section can begin with children, and the contract tweaked so that everyone is in agreement. These basic sections can help parents create a cell phone contract that will work for the whole family.

The Phone Is Whose?

Having a cell phone (click here for “Best Cell Phones for Kids”) in their possession is a privilege that children need to take seriously. Kids need to understand first and foremost that the phone purchased for their use was and continues to be paid for by parents. As Janell Burley Hoffman states in her son Gregory’s cell phone contract, “It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?”

Because the phone essentially belongs to the parents, there are non-negotiable elements to the cell phone contract to set in front of the children. These can include:

* There are rules for cell phone use, just like anything else.

* Cell phone monitoring will be used at all times.

* We want communication to be open and honest.

* The cell phone will be taken away as a consequence of not following the set guidelines in the contract.

The non-negotiable parts of the contract will vary, but parents should decide what these elements are and write them down before discussing the contract with their children.

Guidelines for Good Manners

Kids need to be taught how to use good manners with cell phone use, similar to table manners or how to safely cross the street. This part of the contract could cover:

* When to leave the phone at home and/or turned off, such as during the school day and overnight, and not bringing the phone to the dinner table.

* At what point of the evening the cell phone will be turned over to parents for safekeeping.

* Rules regarding accessing and purchasing games, apps, music, videos and books.

* How to keep from going over the designated minutes they are given during a specific time period.

Cell Phone Monitoring Is a Must

Monitoring kids online needs to simply be part of the process of giving them a cell phone to use. Monitoring software is an effective way for parents to keep track of what their kids are doing online over a wide range of electronic devices. Cell phone monitoring keeps communication open between parents and kids, giving them the opportunity to discuss in detail the harmful material that can be found online. Talking about porn, taking and sending photos of private parts, and sexting can be very uncomfortable, but they need to be addressed for the safety of kids and teens.

However, not all monitoring is online. This part of the contract can stipulate that a child must surrender the cell phone to parents by a certain time of the evening, and parents can then take a look at their kids’ activities. This also ensures that kids are not using their cell phones when they should be doing homework and sleeping.

Read about online safety and additional contract rules on the next page.  

Teaching Kids Online Safety Tips

Similar to safely crossing the street, kids need to be taught the skills to navigate online. This part of the cell phone contract needs to cover any possible safety concerns that parents have, including:

* Not to take or post any embarrassing photos or videos of others.

* Avoiding cyberbullying by not engaging with it in any way and telling parents when they see it.

* Not giving out any personal information, including names, locations, phone numbers and passwords.

* Showing parents any message or interaction online that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

* Not everyone is who they claim to be. Do not agree to meet up with someone that he or she has only met online.

Privilege Means More Responsibility

Parents know their kids better than anyone else and only they can decide if their children are ready for the responsibility of a cell phone. Guidelines for showing responsibility can include:

* Grades are being kept up and homework completed and turned in on a regular basis.

* Chores are done as requested with a good attitude.

* Tweens and teens understand and follow school rules concerning cell phones.

* Knowing where the cell phone is at all times and keeping it charged.

* Kids understand that cell phones can be taken at any time and especially for talking back, not doing well in school, not doing chores and failing to follow the rules of the contract.

A cell phone contract is a valuable tool as kids grow and develop, helping parents to keep communication open and build strong family bonds with their children.

Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. She believes that, in our digital age, it’s time for parents and educators to make sure parents and students alike are educated about technology and social media use, hoping to inform others through her writing.