Father speaking with his son.

Should You Create a Phone ‘Contract’ for Your Kids?

by Screen Time Team on 10/10/2019

There are many moments that mark kids growing up, in big ways and in small ways. Increasingly one of these turning points is a child’s first cell phone. Parents may understandably be hesitant to hand over an expensive and powerful device without setting some ground rules, and in some cases, a “family contract” covering phone use can make a lot of sense.

What Is A Family Phone Contract?

At its most basic level, a family phone contract is getting the rules down on paper. Like any contract, it contains the responsibilities of all parties involved, the cost of not fulfilling those responsibilities, and conditions for the contract to be renegotiated over time. The sample contracts floating around online generally include requirements for parents as well, usually underscoring that kids imitate parents, so parents need to set a good example and be responsible as well.

And like any contract, it can be somewhat contentious. We’ve all been in a situation where we’re handed a paper to sign and we resent the implication that we have to do so, that otherwise we can’t be trusted. Our children are no different. Still, the contract can have value, provided it makes sense for your family and provided you stick to it.

When Should I Consider A Phone Contract?

The usefulness of a contract really depends on two factors: How you think your family will embrace it, and how complicated a “deal” you have to work out for a cell phone in the first place. You know your family better than anybody, so there may be situations where you simply install a parental control app or buy a phone with limited function, lay down the law, and deal with any special exceptions later. And no contract can take the place of a long, clear discussion of your concerns and why your kids need to respect them.

Inevitably, though, nuances will start to present themselves as kids get older, make new friends, and start taking other steps towards new experiences like travel and after-school responsibilities. Here, especially if you’ve got detailed concerns, a contract might make sense just to help your kids figure out the rules!

Parents sitting with their daughter on a couch.

What Should Be In A Phone Contract?

It’s probably not the best idea to use a stock contract online; every family is different. Here are a few things to consider with your contract:

  • Whether device use for schoolwork counts towards overall screen time.
  • Where and how your parental control app is applied.
  • How kids can earn new privileges, and when you’ll consider granting them.
  • What happens if kids don’t meet their responsibilities, or you don’t meet yours.
  • When the contract can be reconsidered and why.

Every contract will be different, and different children within a family will probably have different contracts. Your teen driver with a job will have different rules than your preteen still riding the bus, for example.

One thing that shouldn’t be negotiable is a parental control app. Parental control apps give you more options, not just for enforcing a family phone contract but for addressing issues that might come up that the contract doesn’t cover. To learn more about how parental control apps can keep the rules in place, try ours for free!

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