Cell Phones as Christmas gifts for kids?

A cell phone can be a teaching tool for a preteen.

It’s one of the most vexing questions for today’s parents: when do I allow my son or daughter to start carrying a cell phone? If you listen to your children, they’ll tell you that everyone else already has a phone — although that’s probably the same thing you told your parents about an iPod, a Walkman, a GameBoy, or whatever the hot technology item was when you were a kid.

It’s easy to understand why kids want to have phones of their own. Besides being a status symbol, it represents the same kind of freedom that drivers’ licenses and bicycles provided to earlier generations. It also makes it easier for them to stay in close contact with their circles of friends. (And it can make it easier for you to stay in touch with them.)

A phone can do something else: it can help teach your son or daughter personal responsibility and similar habits that will help them grow into successful adults. But just as you wouldn’t hand over the car keys without supervision and rules, you probably shouldn’t hand over a cell phone and say “have fun!”

When our son began to ask about a phone, my husband and I put a great deal of thought into what we wanted him to learn from the experience. We also did research into how other parents approached the situation, and particularly appreciated the advice from well-known youth advocate Josh Shipp, who recommended creating a contract between the child and parents. That contract should contain clearly defined responsibilities, spell out the ground rules, and detail the penalties for when something goes wrong.

With the help of a template from Josh Shipp’s website, we also developed a letter and a contract for our son. It probably isn’t ideal for every family, but it fit with our values and approach as parents. Our goal was to ensure that he understood the risks of using a phone incorrectly, participated in covering the costs of the phone and the cell service (and how he could earn the money to do that), detailed how he could use the phone, gave us access to the phone and any passwords at any time we wanted, and included specific consequences for failing to live up to the contract.

Part of our job as parents is helping our children develop a sense of personal responsibility that they can carry into adulthood. Giving your child an opportunity to prove themselves — along with clear guidelines and agreed-upon consequences — is a great strategy. If you’ve tried to instill that kind of responsibility in your kids, but feel like you’re coming up short, maybe you should have a conversation with one of our professionals and learn some practical techniques. Contact us today.