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Our Family's Smartphone contract

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:

Smartphone contract
 
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:

  • I will not play with my smartphone while at the dinner table or while eating at restaurants.
  • Every night at 9:00pm, my phone will be left plugged in at the charging station in the kitchen. I will retrieve my phone after 6:00am the next morning.
  • My phone is not a tool to tear others down and I will not use it as such. My first priority is to be a good friend, not to instigate gossip and hurtful conversations.
  • Leaving my phone at home sometimes is okay! I understand that not all social events need to be documented and shared online.
  • In accordance with school policy and my parents’ advice, I will keep my phone off during the school day. Conversations with my friends can happen in person and I don’t need to be distracted by my phone during class.
  • If Mom or Dad call or text me, I will answer or respond right away - no exceptions. If for some reason I miss their call or text, I will get back to them as soon as I can.
  • Numbers that I don’t recognize will not get a response - texts or phone calls.
  • I understand that my phone may be taken away if my grades drop or if I show disrespectful behavior at school or home.
  • If I wouldn’t text or say it to my parents, I will not text it to my friends or put it on my social networks. What I do online stays with me forever and I don’t want to tarnish my reputation by sharing an inappropriate photo or comment. I understand that inappropriate use of my phone can lead to an arrest for internet sex crimes. I understand that mistakes of this kind can gravely affect my chances of getting accepted to college or worse.
  • My parents will always know my password to my phone and all social media apps and programs.
  • If I lose or damage my phone, it is my responsibility to replace or fix it.
  • I understand that if I mess up under the terms of this contract, it is far better to tell my parents about it than try to cover it up. The consequences of covering up a mistake are 5x as bad as the mistake itself.
  • I will access the internet only for things that I would share with my parents. This means no porn or any other inappropriate content.
  • I will ask my parents before I download any apps. These things can cost money and I may not be mature enough for them yet. Downloading happens at my parents’ discretion.
  • I understand that my parents have the right to set up monitoring software on my phone. I know that this is because they love me and want to protect me.
  • If I receive inappropriate photos or texts from others, I will tell my parents and make sure that the content is deleted from my phone immediately.
  • I will not use or create fake apps, usernames, or accounts to keep information hidden from my parents. I will not store content in hidden apps on my phone.
  • I will not hide behind my phone to bully or treat others in a way that I wouldn’t if they were right in front of me, face to face. My phone should be used to build others up, not tear them down.
  • Any selfies (or photos of others) that I take will not contain anything inappropriate or anything that I would not feel comfortable sending to my parents.
  • If my parents deem that my use of the smartphone is inappropriate, that I have crossed boundaries, or that I have not maintained my end of the bargain, I accept that my parents will remove my privilege of having a smartphone for as long as they deem appropriate.


Signature lines

[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.

Prep On,

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.

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