Should you sign a phone contract with your child?

child's phone contract

Phone contracts between parents and children are becoming ubiquitous. They can be found on the Internet, in schools, and probably even among your neighbors. Behind every such contract we find a young child, asking for a phone, and a parent who wishes to give her one, but is wary of the consequences.

Should you consider jotting down a contract with your child before handing that first phone? And what should that contract contain?

After giving the matter a whole lot of thought, you decided your son or daughter deserves their first phone.
You picked the perfect first phone for a child, decided on the right data plan, but you’re still worried about what’s awaiting your child online. The thing which scares you might be strangers that can contact your child, over-exposure on social media, addictive games or easy access to adult content. Whatever your personal boogeyman is, a phone contract between you and your kid is a good way to encourage responsible behavior and give a nudge in the right direction.

However, a contract is not a guarantee that your child will stay out of trouble, and this trend does have its disadvantages. For some parents, making a “deal” is too much of a give-and-take. They prefer setting the rules without any negotiations. Others are too nervous about limiting their children in any way. And, finally, some believe their children are not mature enough to follow a contract, and perceive any agreement as bound to fail.

But, what if even after considering the downsides, and still think a smartphone contract is the right way to go?

Our first tip would be – talk with your child, and discuss what clauses the contract should contain. This might be your first talk about issues such as online privacy, safety, digital hygiene and appropriate online etiquette. In fact, you should have such a conversation with your child even if you don’t intend to use a contract at all.

Remember, no one is born with the knowledge of what if right or wrong online. We all had to learn. Luckily, today’s parents are so much more tech-savvy than before. Your child will appreciate every nugget of experience and common sense you can pass on. 

After hearing your son or daughter’s point of view, explain everything you wish to put in the contract and why you think it’s important. Ultimately, the goal of such a contract is to instill in your child healthy digital habits, and encourage these habits to continue long after the contract is forgotten.

What should your parent-child phone contract contain?

Different children will need different types of contracts. Some parents’ main concern is an addiction to games or to a social network. Others are more concerned about adult content or even sexting (you’d be surprised how early that starts).
Here are some ideas for what your family’s contract might contain:

  • The phone comes with Jiminy on it – A very basic demand from the parents is that a child’s first phone will have some sort of parenting app on it. Jiminy will let the parents know what is happening on the child’s phone and whether the child is upholding his or her side of the deal.
  • The child promises to respond when the parents call or text, as soon as possible.
  • Treat everyone he or she meets online with respect and civility
  • Immediately tell an adult whenever the child encounters cyberbullying or any other mistreatment of others online. Helping others in need is important!
  • Never send anyone you don’t know any private info – photos, name, phone number or address.
  • Ask for permission before downloading a new app.
  • Never visit and adult website or chat group.   
  • No phone during mealtime, school or bedtime (this will pop up again on the next section of the article – the parents’ obligations…)
  • A limit of gaming time or time on social media. Discuss what you feel is the right amount of time for games and other online preoccupations, and ask that the child sticks to it.
  • Never purchase anything online without permission.
  • Always, always tell a trusted adult if a stranger contacts you online.
  • And finally – take care of the phone. If the new phone is broken or lost, it is the child’s responsibility to fix or replace it (by using the child’s allowance, for example). Or maybe you agree that a lost phone is a sign that the child is not ready for one.

Idea’s for the parent’s obligations or agreements:

  • The phone is the child’s property, and it will not be taken without a good reason or a warning.
  • Respect the child’s privacy. The phone is ar way of maintaining social contacts and managing time. Don’t snoop or read messages without the child’s knowledge.  
  • Trust the child, and never install any parental controls or blockers without the child’s knowledge.
  • No phone during mealtimes and other family times – this is your chance to lead by example. Show that during certain times, the phone will only be used if absolutely necessary (for example, a call from grandma, or work phone one of the parents has to answer).

You can pick and choose from the clauses above, but make sure everybody feels the contract is fair, and that it achieves what it’s supposed to – help the child understand what is the healthy and responsible ways to use the phone.

Jiminy often offers parents timely advice and guides, to help them navigate the complexities of their child’s digital life. If your child already has a phone, you may want to give Jiminy a try, here. At the very least, it will let you know if your child is using the phone past bedtime…

Good luck!

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