6 Cell Phone Rules for Kids and Teenagers

Updated on April 17, 2018
ktrapp profile image

I have two teenagers who I gave cell phones to when they were in middle school.

Every good family cell phone policy should take cell phone usage into account.
Every good family cell phone policy should take cell phone usage into account. | Source

As a parent, there have been many times that I wish I had the benefit of hindsight; times that I wish I could get a do-over; and times when I wish I had been better prepared. One such time was the day I gave my kids their first cell phones. In retrospect, I realize that their cell phones should have come with some sort of parent-child cell phone contract, maybe a child-to-parent payment plan, or at the very least, a list of cell phone rules for kids.

According to a 2016 study by Influence Central, the average age a child receives their first cell phone is around 10 years old. Another study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014 found that monitoring your child's media use can help set them up for success at school as well as benefit their mental and physical health.

How to Create a Family Cell Phone Policy

Now, I do not claim to be any sort of parenting expert (far from it), but I have always tried to do my best for my two children (now almost 18 and 20 years old) and at least in regard to cell phones, I do think I may have a few pearls of wisdom to pass along to the novice parent. At the very least, I hope to give you the 20/20 vision that I lacked when I armed my then middle-school children with their own personal cell phones. When you decide that your kids should have cell phones, you can be prepared and hopefully avoid the rough waters that will come if the phone becomes a bargaining chip in your relationship.

Two really important pieces of groundwork need to be laid out before I give you my brand of six cell phone rules that every parent should have.

  • First and foremost, never forget that your child is a sponge, absorbing everything you do and say. And that is especially true when it comes to cell phone etiquette and behavior. If one day you don't want your teen driver to text or talk on the phone while driving, even if it seems like an eternity away, then you yourself should not do it today. Enough said.
  • Second, put your cell phone policy in place the very first day you allow your children to have a phone. The policy should come across to them as a "this is how it is done in our house" type of thing. If you wait until there is a problem and react, then your cell phone rules come across as a punishment. The difference may seem subtle, but trust me, when kids are involved, it is worse enforcing a punishment than enforcing the rules.

All phones should stay out of the bedroom. Find a common area to plug all electronics in at the end of the night.
All phones should stay out of the bedroom. Find a common area to plug all electronics in at the end of the night.

Rule #1: No Cell Phones in the Bedroom at Night

Why This Rule Is Important

  • Kids need a lot of sleep and trust me when I say that if they are allowed to have a cell phone in their room at night, they will be quietly texting friends for hours on end! The way they look in the morning is usually a dead giveaway if this has been going on the night before.
  • Keep in mind that not every one of your child's cell phone contacts is really a friend or someone you want texting your kid at night, let alone during the day. Texting frees them up to "say" things that they would not normally say out loud, so just beware.
  • Research published online by the Journal of Youth Studies says that children who logged onto their cell phones every night were about three times more likely to report feeling “constantly tired” at school compared to their peers. Not surprising!

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule

  • Everyone in the house should put their cell phone in one location to charge overnight, and that means parents too. You can get one of those boxes for charging multiple electronics at the same time and put it in the kitchen or your bedroom.
  • By a certain time of your choosing, cell phone usage needs to be shut down for the night. Simply put, lead by example.

Possible Reaction(s) to This Rule

  • They might tell you that their friends can have their cell phones at night. And you say that nighttime is for sleep, and you are happy to let them have it during the day, but at night everyone needs to charge their phone and get a good night's sleep.
  • Your kids might also say they need the cell phone alarm to wake up in the morning. That's purely a desperation move. Get them a cheap alarm clock—problem solved.

Your child should not be taking their phone to school unless they need it for after school activities.
Your child should not be taking their phone to school unless they need it for after school activities.

Rule #2: No Cell Phones in School

Why This Rule Is Important

  • Many schools have a cell phone policy in place (usually it has to be off and out of sight), but this doesn't stop a lot of kids.
  • Not only is cell phone use in school a distraction to learning, but they are used for cheating, bullying, and spreading rumors at warp speed.
  • Kids can easily silence their phones and text without looking, all the while having their phone concealed in a hoodie or backpack pocket. Crazy, I know.

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule

  • To ensure that their cell phones are not at school, the phones need to remain in a visible location at home as everyone goes off to school. That is why I think all phones should reside in the kitchen or a central location for their overnight charging.
  • Some of you might even want to ban cell phone use in the morning before school if your child is prone to running late and is easily distracted.

Possible Reaction(s) to This Rule

  • You will probably hear the usual stuff as they beg and plead to bring it with them, how all of their friends have their cell phones at school.
  • You just remind them of the school cell phone policy and how we are going to follow the school rules.
  • The only exception to this would be if they are involved in an after-school activity or sport and need to contact you. Even then, the phone needs to be off during the day, and you can monitor the number of texts during the day to ensure that they have not abused this privilege.

Cell Phones in School

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For older kids, you may decide that cell phone use is allowed during the car ride but has to remain in the car during the family activity.
For older kids, you may decide that cell phone use is allowed during the car ride but has to remain in the car during the family activity. | Source

Rule #3: No Cell Phones on Family Days, Family Meals, or Other Important Family Times

Why This Rule Is Important

  • Nothing can interfere with your family relationships quicker than endless texting while you are doing some sort of family activity together. The disinterested looks on their faces, the choppy conversation from being interrupted by the vibration of an incoming text, and the questions concerning when the family-time will be over can all be avoided if the cell phone is off and remains in the car or at home.

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule

  • You will have to decide your tolerance level for cell phone usage and what works best for your family—often this depends on the age of the child.
    • For younger kids, you may require that the phone is left at home.
    • For older kids, you may decide that cell phone use is allowed during the car ride but has to remain in the car during the family activity.

Possible Reaction(s) to This Rule

  • You may get complaints because they feel they are missing out on something so important, some tween or teen crisis, or dire friend emergency.
  • Give them five minutes to finish up but require that the family-time rule is followed when the time is up.

Rule #4: Restrict Camera Access

Why This Rule Is Important

  • Kids have been known to take pictures of everything, even if it's inappropriate. This is yet another reason schools do not allow cell phones; often equipped with cameras, they have been used in locker rooms and have been the cause of a lot of heartaches.
  • Even kids who have voluntarily taken exposed pictures of themselves have been labeled as sex offenders.

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule

  • If possible, choose a cell phone plan that does not include the ability to send pictures via text.
    • Just be aware that this feature usually still functions even if it's not part of your plan—you just pay a lot for it when it occurs (receiving or sending).
  • In addition, be sure to monitor cell phone usage to ensure that your child is not sending or receiving pictures.
  • If you aren't able to choose a restrictive plan, you can use the built-in iPhone parental controls or download an app on an Android to restrict camera usage. I have a whole section on parental controls below.

Possible Reaction(s) to This Rule

  • This shouldn't be too much of an issue. I would think that if it is, then they're up to no good, and you need to stick to your guns.

Make sure that every contact in your child's phone is someone they know personally.
Make sure that every contact in your child's phone is someone they know personally.

Rule #5: Make Sure That Each Cell Phone Contact Is a Real Friend or Family Member

Why This Rule Is Important

  • When you decide that your kid should have a cell phone and you give them one, of course, they are eager to show it off to their friends and pass along their number to anyone else with a cell phone, whether or not they are really friends.
  • Kids that you may not really prefer your child to hang out with outside of school now have a 24/7 connection. And this can ultimately be a really bad thing.

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule

  • When your child is older, like high school, you may have to trust them to use good discretion when giving out their phone number.
  • When your child is young, you might ask to see their list of cell phone contacts periodically.
  • Some cell phone carriers will let you set up the phone so it only works with the cell phone contact numbers that you allow.
    • If this is the case, then you can add appropriate numbers to the list as your child gives them to you.

Possible Reaction(s) to This

  • I am not suggesting you do this for older kids, but for younger ones who are just happy to finally get a phone, they probably won't protest too much. At first, they really do just want to text with their friends.
  • If they do complain, just tell them that you are willing to provide them with a phone to communicate with their family and friends, not every kid they know with a phone.

Here's a screenshot of what the parental restrictions screen looks like on an iPhone.
Here's a screenshot of what the parental restrictions screen looks like on an iPhone.

Rule #6: Set Up Parental Controls

Why This Rule Is Important

  • Many cell phones today are equipped with wifi capabilities, making it easier than ever for your child to access the Internet. Your child's phone will also likely include a camera and video feature. And you can bet that they'll start sending photos to friends as soon as they can.

The Best Way to Carry out This Rule:

  • Fortunately, there are numerous parental controls available on almost all smartphones. Apple iPhones even have built-in controls that can easily be enabled.While you can't set up restrictions on non-Apple apps, like Instagram and Snapchat, you can block your child from downloading new apps.
  • For Android phones, there are a lot of options available in the App store, like Kids Zone or Kids Place, which only allows your child to only access apps you've approved. MMGuardian lets you remotely monitor and control any activity on their phone.
  • If you're looking for something more comprehensive, there are services like Net Nanny or Qustodio that allow you to customize restrictions, like setting time limits, tracking calls, and monitoring social media to make sure your child isn't looking at anything inappropriate.

Possible Reaction(s) to This Rule:

  • Take the time to talk to your child about why you are setting up these parental controls and about the importance of being safe while surfing the web or using social media. Many kids don't understand the dangers, like sharing their personal information or looking at inappropriate content.
    • Having these conversations may reduce the likelihood that they'll immediately try and figure out a way to get around these restrictions.
    • You can even say that every so often you can revisit this conversation and discuss removing some of the restrictions as they get older.
  • If your child is young enough, they might not even be aware of the restrictions you've set up. They'll just be happy to have a cell phone that allows them to talk to their friends.
  • Make sure you stick to your guns on this rule. It's much more important to keep your child safe than to make them happy.

Be Proactive with Your Cell Phone Rules

Remember, this suggested list of cell phone rules is intended for younger, non-high school age kids, although rules one, three, and four might be a good idea for them too. The point is to think ahead of time about the possible points of contention and let this time of early cell phone usage be a training ground for good cell phone etiquette.

Have a family meeting to discuss cell phone safety and why you're enforcing these rules. You want them to feel like they are part of the conversation and to understand why these rules are in place. That way it won't feel like a punishment or that you don't' trust them. You should also discuss what the consequences will be if they break these rules.

If you have a family cell phone policy in place when your child first gets a cell phone in middle school or younger, then hopefully good habits will be well established by high school. Consider the middle school years like cell phone boot camp. Just remember, you are the commander-in-chief and you have the duty of protecting those in your command.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Kelly victoria 

        3 weeks ago

        This was very useful!

      • profile image

        me 

        4 weeks ago

        You know you could also say your kid is allergic to everything and slather them in sunscreen anytime they walk by an open window because why not? Makes sure they don't get hurt.

      • profile image

        Brendan 

        8 weeks ago

        I like your points but the reason kids have phones is for emergency of important reasons like seeing if they can go to a friends house after school and what is the point of their phone because they can just talk on their computers with Gmail, Skype eg. And if you have a kid younger the thirteen with a phone then they are too young to use is because they will need to be able to know phone numbers of their head or be responsible. Finally if you are not able too trust your kids without parental controls then they shouldn’t have phones but age restrictions are okay.

      • profile image

        Keith 

        2 months ago

        my comment is to everyone. did our parents do this to us? we had the internet on a dial up modem. not a smart phone. that was far worse then what kids have today. and look how we turned out. i mean sure have some rules but if you are gonna go to such drastic measures why not just get them a flip phone that doesn't have a camera.. i mean what's the point in allowing the kid's to be kid's if you are going to limit them to the extent of hoping in a circle..

      • profile image

        Lily 

        3 months ago

        My rules for my phone are:

        1. No phone on Monday-Friday

        2. No more than 2 hours on the phone on Saturday, and no more than 1.5 hours on the phone on Sunday

        3. No social media

        4. No taking photos or videos

        5. No texting except my parents or other family members

        there are a few more, but you get the basic idea. I'm using the family computer to write this.

      • profile image

        James 

        4 months ago

        giving cell phones and smartphones to students has yielded negative results for students in schools. The most important being laziness and lack of interest in school work. This has led to students hiring other people to do their homework and essays. I noticed that my son has been buying essays from https://theessaypro.com/. I will do everything possible to stop this behavior before it becomes a problem.

      • profile image

        A Concerned Teen 

        5 months ago

        Okay, I found this website as I was doing research and I found it frankly quite horrible. Whoever made this website was clearly not researching. If you plan on following these steps I guarantee you will only be enforcing an unhealthy relationship between yourself and your child. If you have ever heard of the reactance theory? Well if not there are a few rules to reactance.

        1. When certain free behaviors are threatened or removed, the more important a free behavior is to a certain individual the greater the magnitude of the reactance.

        2. With a given set of free behaviors, the greater the proportion threatened or eliminated, the greater will be the total level of reactance.

        3. When an important free behavior has been threatened with elimination, the greater will be the threat, and the greater will be the level of reactance.

        As for trust...I suggest you do your own research on that. I understand the fear of certain things relating to your child's health but the truth is trust is the best relationship you can form with them. You can not protect your child from everything but it is important that they know they can go to you without fears of judgment or their embarrassment being turned into a lesson. Before you go setting rules remember this: Strict parents raise great liers.

      • profile image

        margo 

        6 months ago

        i have a phone and it helps with school and out of school

      • profile image

        Arielle 

        6 months ago

        i like the steps my mom uses the step. i usally just be on my phone for 2 hours or less.

      • profile image

        ann onymous 

        7 months ago

        I am a teenager and I spend 2 hours more or less on my phone a day. I mainly use it on social media and to speak with friends. Or watch funny videos.

      • profile image

        lil pump 

        7 months ago

        kids shoul have phones at school

      • profile image

        zane tyler bryant 

        8 months ago

        ok right

      • profile image

        somoenne 

        8 months ago

        i think this is fair, although my mum took my phone when i was younger after i came back from school so i had only been using it for time and travel and not onlin seeming i was at school, and i had about 30m on it at night and then went to bed as it was taken away, i had never been naughty for it to be taken away only very occasionly , but how naughty do they have to be for them to have it taken?

      • profile image

        Probably a virus 

        9 months ago

        I agree with the first rule, but i suggest that you don't leave them charging at night, because overcharging a device can damage the battery and make it discharge even faster. I suggest that they charge their phones before they put them away

      • profile image

        Necie 

        11 months ago

        My 15 yr old son is a good kid. Hes had a cell phone for years

      • profile image

        inomous 

        13 months ago

        very good but how long should i let them have there phones for

      • QuintessenceOfAng profile image

        Angela 

        2 years ago from Colorado

        Thanks for doing this - this article has a lot of great ideas! I like how you point out how the rules should be in place on day 1 so they do not otherwise feel like punishment later. If I would have had that wisdom when I first gave my oldest daughter a cell phone we could have avoided a lot of conflict and headaches. I will know now for my little one once she reaches cell phone age. Thanks again - great hub!

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        6 years ago from Illinois

        Thank you Tracy. If I had to pick out the single most important "cell phone rule for kids" I would have to say it is not allowing your child to have the cell phone in his bedroom at night. I think this rule becomes pretty obvious to most parents once they realize what is going on, but personally I would find it easier to explain to the child ahead of time, "I will get you a cell phone but you cannot have it in your room when it is time to go to bed." Best wishes to you as you enter into the "parenting of a teen" stage. It's a lot of fun too; hopefully I have not painted a bad picture to anyone!

      • Tracy Lynn Conway profile image

        Tracy Lynn Conway 

        6 years ago from Virginia, USA

        So glad about this heads up! I recently bought a cell phone for my now 13 year old and I have already been using some of your suggestions but I am thrilled to get your well thought out rules created from a "Mom in the trenches." Great hub! ~Voted up and awesome~

      • prairieprincess profile image

        Sharilee Swaity 

        7 years ago from Canada

        Ktrapp, very good ideas. My stepson has a cell phone that we bought him and I didn't realize until a few months later how disruptive these things can be. We have not made any of these rules and going back now would be hard (esp. since he is in high school) but it is still an option.

        He has only texted once or twice at the dinner table but if it happens any more often, I think we will need to make an actual rule.

        I also love the no phones at night rule. I also think it should be no t.v. and no internet on at night, too.

        Thank you for another excellent hub!

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Thanks slaffery. Just don't let your kids know you've broken the rules. Haha. I'm glad you loved this enough to print it and share it.

      • slaffery profile image

        slaffery 

        7 years ago from Kansas, USA

        Well I think I've broken most of the rules. I love this and have printed it out to show my husband. Thanks for sharing this hub. :)

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Thanks Tina. I think you're right about targeting kids. I remember when my daughter first got a cell phone she got a bunch of free ringtones - or so she thought. The ringtone didn't cost anything but the data usage to get it on her phone did and it was a lot. I had the cellphone company make it so the phone couldn't transfer data, but any time I upgraded a phone or replaced a broken phone data usage was allowed again. It seems the default is to allow things until parents are faced with some outrageous bill. Seems very backwards to me. Thanks for sharing your experiences, they can help others.

      • TinaAtHome profile image

        TinaAtHome 

        7 years ago from California

        Sorry about that. I am TinasTreasures and TinaAtHome. I am the same person, just with 2 different accounts (I didn't realize I was logged into the other account)

      • TinasTreasures profile image

        TinasTreasures 

        7 years ago from California

        I never got the money back. I came to the conclusion that it was done on purpose to target teenagers with phones. It was one of those things that wasn't illegal, just immoral. My son made a contract with 8 different companies (without my knowledge) to spend my money at a rate of $9.99 a month. While he claimed he thought he was buying free points for games, I actually think he knew what he was doing.

        Anyway, it took me a full day to sort out because I had to talk to 8 different companies all of whom refused to refund the $9.99 I had paid, but as a "special favor" canceled the contract for future payments.

        Anyway I complained to Verizon and said they weren't innocent because they obviously got commission on the sales and as a "special favor" they gave me a credit of $40 and I made my son pay the other $40 as a lesson learned. But parents be aware when you give your child a cellphone it's like giving them permission to spend your money. You might not know this, but companies do.

        One more thing, my other son was 16 and got a debit card and unknowingly signed up for $189 a month from his bank account. He thought he was getting free points for a Facebook game too. They are targeting our teenagers and we must educate our children to not fall for their tricks.

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Thanks for your input TinaAtHome. I cannot believe that giving a child a cellphone to use can be interpreted to mean permission to spend money with it. Thanks for making others aware of this. You may also be interested in this article about the effects of Facebook on teens based on a new study: https://wehavekids.com/parenting/Teens-and-Faceboo

      • TinaAtHome profile image

        TinaAtHome 

        7 years ago from California

        Watch Facebook too. My son signed up for 8 monthly contracts of $9.99 each using his cellphone. When I complained that the contracts were for those over 18 I was told the fact I had given my son a cellphone meant I had given him permission to spend money using it. I just didn't know that until it was too late.

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Thanks glassvisage. The first cell phones I got my kids were pay-as-you-go phones so they did have very limited use of them, but even so we mistakenly did not have cell phone rules in place, or at least we were not wise enough to enforce them. They got "real" cell phones at the same time at ages 16 and 14. Still we were not wise to the fact that they might stay up all night texting. If I could do it all again I would definitely use the 5 cell phone rules for young children and enforce them. I have the feeling parents are getting much wiser now, now that cell phones have been around for awhile. Thanks again for your comment. Oh - and I remember that snake game :)

      • glassvisage profile image

        glassvisage 

        7 years ago from Northern California

        Great Hub. My first phone was when I was in high school and my mom told me it was STRICTLy for emergencies. It only have a few minutes a month on the plan, it didn't have a camera or anything... the only thing it had that I really ended up using was the Snake game :)

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        It's tough not being able to control everything, isn't it "Just About It?" I have heard that our job as parents is to give our kids wings to fly. At some point I guess we have to give up being the pilot and take on the co-pilot position. Then one day when we've done our job well as parents we'll relinquish control completely because we've taught them to fly solo. Good luck and thanks for your comment.

      • Just About It profile image

        Just About It 

        7 years ago from southern CA

        I agree with you 100%. I wish they would make one where a parent could control dialed and accepted called.

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Hi Reena. I really do think when parents can be proactive as much as possible, then everyone is better off. Thanks for your input.

      • ktrapp profile imageAUTHOR

        Kristin Trapp 

        7 years ago from Illinois

        Hi Jacqui2011. It seems you may be "across the pond" from me, but our parenting issues are the same. One time in my daughter, probably 14 at the time, and a friend decided to text all night, a school night no less, to see if they could stay awake the whole night. I think keeping the phones out of their rooms at night really protects them from their own selves.

      • jacqui2011 profile image

        jacqui2011 

        7 years ago from Norfolk, UK

        Hi ktrapp. Yet another useful and well written hub. I got up in the middle of the night recently to find my 10 year old daughter texting her friend at 1.45am!!! It almost caused world war 3, but the rule is now no phones or ipods in the bedroom at night. A problem I had was when my eldest daughter was 15, she used to let her friends borrow her phone and I ended up having to pay a bill almost £20 over her tariff! It never happened after this, but my younger daughter has been warned never to let a friend borrow her cell phone unless its an emergency and I know about it. Voted up and useful.

      • profile image

        Reena J 

        7 years ago

        Hey thanks a lot for this useful information..I think every parents should take a look on this and be proactive in their side...

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