Q: We've decided to allow our teen son (he's 14) to have a cell phone. What kind of rules for it do you recommend? Also, our 12-year-old wants a cell phone, he says that it isn't fair that his brother gets one and not him. Do you think we should get him one, too?
A: First, no, I don't think that the 12-year-old should have his own cell phone unless there is some compelling reason for him to have one. Your older son will be old enough to drive before the 12-year-old, would you make the oldest wait until the youngest was old enough to get his license? Your 14-year-old waited 14 years for a cell phone, the youngest will have something to look forward to when he is 14! The oldest should have some extra privileges.
As for rules, they could vary by family. But we've found the following rules to be good for our family:
1) During the school week, the phone goes into the parents bedroom at 9 PM. He can have it back in the morning after he is completely ready for school.
2) The phone is to be turned off during meals, and during homework. Once homework is completed and packed for the next day, and his after-dinner chores are done, he's free to use the phone until 9 PM.
3) Determine if you will allow texting. Kids can rapidly run up a large phone bill with texting. If you do allow it, let him know how many minutes he has, and you can usually check the usage on your provider's website. We take our son's phone when his time for textiing and talking is up. We've shown him how to calculate how much talk/text time he has per day and, if he isn't conservative, he could end up with no phone for quite a while until he has his next allottment of minutes!
4) If you allow texting, you are within your rights to check messages that may be stored on the phone, if you have suspicions of illegal or dangerous activities.
5) If you require your son to pay a portion of the cell phone bill, tell him roughly what time of the month you will be collecting. If he doesn't have the money, give him a few days to come up with it, or you discontinue his service (we just turn off and confiscate the phone until our son's portion has been paid).
6) The phone is to be turned off when visiting with relatives or friends, or at other inappropriate times (movies, museums, etc.)
7) Let him know that if his grades go down, and he doesn't correct the problem fairly quickly, that he will lose cell phone privileges until his grades are back up.
These rules may be added to as needed, or amended as needed. But definitely set the ground rules and stick with them! When you overlook something once, that's a "loop hole" that kids will use: "Well, you let me before!"
* Copright 2008 Julie P. Clark
Julie answers parenting and bullying/relational aggression questions in the members-only area of DrDaveStein.com