The Smartphone contract every family should have

My oldest son has begged us for a cell phone for years. He is now in middle school, and, apparently, everyone in middle school has a cell phone. Or, at least, this is what he insists as he pleads his case for a phone.

We thought we could hold off until he was 13, but we have hit the point that we would feel better (and safer) if he had a cell. According to, “56 percent of children, age 8 to 12, have a cell phone.” So the wait has ended, and another phone is in our family’s future.

Arming an 11-year-old with his own window to the world—and lifeline to his peers—has me on edge. With his other devices, I feel like there is some sort of control over what he sees and does. With a phone, the unknowns scare me.

Like many parents, our family is drawing up a family cell phone contract. No, not the contract from the wireless companies—those are pretty much obsolete anyway. This cell phone contract will outline exactly how he is to use his phone. It will limit his time talking, what he is allowed to download, texting rules and other guidelines. This is the contract he will sign if he wants the privilege of his own phone.

And his signature is going to verify that he understands exactly what the rules are for his new device.

While every family has their own unique contract, the basics of the contract are often fairly similar. For parents who are about to entrust a pre-teen with a smart phone, follow this outline for content that should be included in the written pact with your son or daughter.

Safety Matters

Teens that are of driving age should have a clause in their contract that strictly states that they cannot talk or text while driving. The phone should be off limits in the car during drive-time. The Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania’s web site teendriversource states that “teens have the reaction time of a 70-year-old when distracted while driving” and the “crash risk is four times higher when a driver uses a cell phone, whether or not it’s hands-free.” Using a cell phone while driving is dangerous and reckless.


Include a section on cell phone etiquette in the contract. Kids often see adults exhibiting some pretty rude behaviors while publicly on the cell. Make sure kids and teens understand that it is never polite to talk on the phone in restrooms, at the cashier, in doctors’ offices, restaurants and movie theaters. Keep phone voices low (no shouting), because, remember, you never know who is listening.

Money Matters

Phones are expensive—especially smart phones. Stipulate in the contract what will happen if the phone is broken, lost or stolen. Will you replace it? Will the child be responsible for any part of the replacement cost? Even adults have been known to put a cell through the wash (guilty!), so choose the repercussions carefully.

Photos & Apps

Urge kids to be responsible in the photos that they take and the apps that they download. Once a photo is shared, there is no way to undue potential damage or embarrassment. While some apps like Snapchat or YikYak are fun, they also have the potential to wreak havoc. Check out popular apps and decide what apps are acceptable.

Ramifications of Misuse or Abuse

A cell phone is a privilege. If grades start to slip because of excess cell phone use, then parents have the right to take the phone away. However, any stipulations that result in cell phone discipline should be thoroughly explained so that kids are not taken by surprise.


Privacy is a tough topic for parents. Being a parent means keeping children safe. If parents suspect dangerous, inappropriate or abusive activity, they need to be able to access their child’s phone. However, trust is vital for a healthy relationship. Don’t demand to see every detail of kids’ mobile lives, but be sure that they are aware that you do have a right—at any time—to see what is being sent and received. No secrets!

Parents should feel empowered when handing over a new form of connectivity to their child. A cell phone contract helps everyone understand the rules, regulations and responsibilities that accompany the new device. As I hand over my son’s new phone, I’m going to sweetly remind him that now I will always have his number…and blocking mom violates his contract!

Guest Post by Amy Williams