We did not allow my stepson to get a cell phone until he was 14, and boy, were we ever the hold-out parents in his circle! Some of his friends starting getting phones at age 10. I may be a young stepmom, but I suppose I’m a little old-fashioned in this regard. I know that when I was a teenager, I did a fabulous job of embarrassing myself without the convenience of social media and texting to speed it along. Part of me certainly wanted to spare my stepson from this for as long as I could, so I was in no hurry for him to get one. I was so nervous about all of the doors (good and bad) that a cell phone might open. When we finally got him one a few months ago, we did a few things that truly set our minds at ease. For those of you with teens or preteens who have cell phones or may get one soon, I’m sharing a few tips and tricks that have worked for us!
Rules. When we finally gave my stepson his own phone, it came with the following set of rules nicely printed and tucked inside the packaging:
- Don’t post/send anything you wouldn’t want us to see.
- Instagram is the only social network site allowed.
- We are to know all passwords and pincodes. You may not change them without telling us immediately.
- The phone must be put on the charger in our room each night when you go to bed and left there overnight.
- If you get Ds, you lose phone privileges.
- Apps must be approved by us to download.
- We have the right to take and look at your phone/apps at any time. We bought it and we pay for the monthly service. It is a privilege, not a right.
Amazingly, we have gotten almost zero push-back on these rules from day one. It’s amazing what clear expectations can do for a parent-teen relationship!
Monitoring Software. I wanted a way to monitor his usage easily without fear that he’s deleting messages or waiting until after he’s in bed to scan his phone. Enter: cell phone monitoring software. There are about a million options out there for different phones, different price points, and different utilities. Some of them even allow you to restrict the teen’s access to apps/text/etc. remotely! We went with uknowkids.com, which installs an app on the child’s phone for parental monitoring. My favorite part: it sends “notifications” regarding questionable activity. If the activity is a text, it will even translate into language the parent can understand:
Parental Setup. I set up the phone before I gave it to him, which allowed me to limit his access to certain things. I enabled the “Restrictions” setting on his phone so that he cannot delete applications without having me enter a password, which is hugely important for the monitoring software we use. I also added him to our family iCloud account, which means that when he wants to download a new app, I receive a notification and can remotely approve or decline it. This is much easier than a restriction that would require me to physically enter a password into his phone, especially if he’s hanging out with friends. He doesn’t mind because it also gives him access to our iCloud music subscription!
Find My iPhone. If I had to redo our list of rules, number 8 would read: “Always leave the ‘Find My iPhone’ function turned on.” My stepson and I have agreed on this one after the fact, and it actually makes both of our lives easier. I can see that he’s still nearby when he says he’s riding bikes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t have to text me his friend’s address when he needs a ride home.
With the above safeguards in place, I feel just fine about like our teen having a cell phone. (In some ways, it has actually improved our relationship because he is FAR more responsive to text than in-person conversation!) Of course, I realize all families are different, so I would just encourage you to consider what safeguards might be appropriate for yours.
What works for your family?