In this post, I share our personal experience introducing smartphones to our 14-year old twin sons for the first time. If you're grappling with how to deal with this issue, maybe it will give you some food for thought.
Admittedly, our 8th-graders were behind the power curve when it came to smartphones. Until two weeks ago (on Christmas Day), our twins had been using slider phones with no data. This was atypical for their peer group and they had to find ways to deal with the blowback (e.g. Dude, what's with the slider? That thing's ancient).
We knew we were treading on thin ice. Teenagers are more concerned about impressing their friends than their parents - and our sons were on the wrong side of that trade.
We struck a deal with them a few years ago. If they could demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and patience with their slider phones, we would consider upgrading someday.
That someday had finally come. We couldn't justify leaving them in the Stone Age for another week.
It was with great trepidation that we rehabilitated two old smartphones (iPhone 4) to pass along to our sons for Christmas. Was this the beginning of the end? Would we ever see the whites of their eyes again? Time would tell.
My wife and I discussed, at length, how we would handle this brave new world. She was inclined to retain full snooping privileges - anytime, anyplace. I suggested we just give them the phones with no strings attached and tell them that we "trusted" them to do the right thing. I held out hope that the thought of breaking our trust would keep them on the straight and narrow.
We met somewhere in the middle.
In the end, we decided to mark this event with something significant - something that would grab their ever-wandering attention. We drafted a contract that laid out the expectations we had for them with respect to their smartphones. Our thought was that as much as teens like freedom, they also find comfort in having rules, parameters, or guardrails.
We studied various online templates and came up with our own version below. We're not sure there is such thing as a "perfect contract". We drafted ours in a way we thought would connect with our sons best.
We have no delusions that this contract will prevent mistakes. In fact, this contract was put in place so that we had something to fall back on "when" these mistakes happened. Our hope was that the time and energy we spent writing, reviewing, and signing this contract with our sons might help them avoid the "big mistakes" that could derail their lives forever. We discussed these scenarios in great detail.
Here's what our contract looks like if you are looking for examples:
I, ________________, understand that having a smartphone is a privilege, and not a basic human right. If I choose to accept this smartphone and Verizon service, paid for by my parents, I also choose to accept the following rules and responsibilities:
[Note #1: This contract was written specifically for 14-yr old boys. I would likely make some tweaks if my child was older/younger or if they were girls. This contract will be reviewed periodically and adjusted as needed.]
[Note #2: My wife gave me some pushback on this blog post. Her initial feeling was that it was too private and personal. I responded by saying, "Great, that's the way I want it to be." There's so much generic content out there written by ghostwriters who are paid to crank out tired "content pieces". I don't find a lot of value in them. They lack authenticity. I try to write about real issues that we are actually living through - for good or for bad. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this approach.]
I hope this helps you think about how to best handle your child's phone use. If you have other suggestions for things that worked with your child, please share in the comments below.
Author: PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank, etc.
Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.