Just about every teen with the means to have a phone has one, and it’s pretty much a given that come middle school, your child will develop a sudden need for a phone of his or her own. Maybe she will ask you for one, or maybe you will be the one deciding that for your peace of mind it’s best for her to have it. Regardless of how this magical phone comes into your life, if you want to keep the peace, you and your teen need a contract. While it may not be appealing at the time, trust me, this little piece of paper (and it should be little: short and to the point) will save you lots of headaches, tears, and frustration in the future. But only if it’s done right.

Define the purpose

If you and your teen aren’t on the same page about why they have the phone and what it is (and is not) supposed to be used for right from the get go, you’ll never get into alignment later. So get it out there in writing:

This phone was given to you to help you stay in contact with me when you’renot at home. You may also use it to text with and talk to your friends and access Facebook and Instagram. It is not to be used to purchase apps or music, or access the internet.

What are the non-negotiables

Kids, particularly toddlers and teens, are limit testers. It’s not a bad thing, it’s simply a fact. They are biologically wired to push the boundaries and find out how far they can go. It’s a developmental need. So help them, and help yourself avoid headaches and heartache, by defining some of those boundaries up front. What are they absolutely required to or prohibited from doing? What will happen if they go outside of that boundary?

You must share your phone lock codes and all social media, email, or other account passwords with me. You may not use this phone to communicate in any way with anyone I have not met. You may not use this phone to send or receive inappropriate pictures or videos. If I find that any of these things are happening, your phone will immediately be taken and may not be given back.

It goes both ways

Our phone usage has an impact on our kids, and this is a great time to set some family wide guidelines that everyone will adhere to, not just your teen. Get a family conversation started about ways that your teen might like to see your phone usage change. Use this as an opportunity to model the respect for the agreement that you expect your teen to show.

We will not have our phones present at the dinner table. We will not use our phones while driving or in the car together. There will be a phone free period on [insert time that your family generally spends time together]. When we are having a conversation,everyone will put their phones away so we can communicate with each other more effectively.

Leave room to grow

As your teen shows responsible behavior, are there additional things that you’re willing to allow? Will you do a periodic review of the rules and allow her to ask for new privileges? If so, this is the place to put that information, so she knows that your expectations will grow and change along with her growth and increasing maturity.

We will revisit this contract every six months to see if anything needs to be updated. As you show increasing maturity and responsible behavior, I am happy to consider new privileges that you may desire. This isn’t a guarantee that I’ll agree to them, but it is a promise to listen to you and have an open discussion.

 

Open, honest, and clear communication is the key to successful collaboration with your teen. She is looking to you to give her guidance, even though she may often tell you otherwise. Be clear from the outset about your expectations, come into the discussion with an open mind, and operate from a place of positivity and optimism that you can work together. You just might be surprised at how smoothly things can go when you truly collaborate.

-Carolyn Wagner, MA LPC

 

Carolyn Wagner, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in maternal mental health and self-injury in teens. She sees adults and adolescents with a wide variety of needs including anxiety, depression, and body image concerns.