Teen Cell Phone Contract: Setting Clear Expectations

Setting clear expectations with our kids is one of the most important things we parents can do to teach responsibility, and technology offers us a great opportunity. Despite our typical frustrations with it, technology can help you prepare young teens for increasing responsibility – to teach them about what you expect, and hold them accountable to it.

Recently, one of our private coaching clients saw an opportunity to train her 12-year-old daughter with ADHD to handle responsibility by intentionally using a cell phone.  She lives in Nebraska, where kids are eligible to get a driver's license at 14. By creating a Cell Phone Contract with her daughter now (see below), she is setting the stage for what will be required when a car is in the mix in less than 2 years!

The beauty of a contract is that you are creating a complete system, with rules and consequences, and everyone is on the same page with it. With details clearly spelled out, the “system” becomes the enforcer, and you get to be a motivating player on your child's team. If the contract calls for using x number of minutes, for example, you can remind your child when s/he's coming close to the limit, and encourage her to be make choices that will fulfill the contract, rather than yelling at her later for using too many minutes.

Contracts are a great way to empower your children to be successful, rather than just catching them when they make mistakes.  When you encourage your children to assume more responsibility for themselves, their actions and their belongings, you want them to know that you believe in them (see blog: 10 Magic Parenting Words). If introduced in a coach-like way, a contract can really help your kids learn to believe in themselves!

Questions to Ask Yourself

We encourage you to use these questions to stimulate some thinking for yourself:

    • How can I encourage my child to take on more responsibility?

    • What expectations do I have (and what concerns might be holding me back)?

    • What limits do I want to put into place?

    • How can I hold him/her accountable?

    • What do I need to do to set my child and myself up for success?

Below is a variation on the contract our client devised, and some of her reasoning behind it. Some of the language is a bit business-oriented, which works well for some families.  You may want to adapt the language to be a bit more personal if you think your child may object.

The important part is to get clear about what you expect from your child, so that you enter into a new responsibility with as few surprises as possible. In ADHD land—fewer surprises offers a lot of confidence!

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A Parent's Considerations in Writing a Cell Phone Contract:

Comments from our Client: “The meeting didn't start out well...our daughter hates family meetings and they usually go badly. But once she saw that she was going to have a say in the discussion, she started participating.

"Our contract is detailed because our daughter was getting a smart phone.  With remote country driving, it helps for her to know where mom is, and vice versa. We use the Cozi.com system to keep our calendars, shopping, and current locations in sync... so we felt we needed a "privacy clause" about sharing information in the contract.

“We also presented the cell contract with detailed prices so that she could decide if the data access and texting were worth the additional cost to her. (Note: The contract price is not unreasonable for our situation because farm kids have an opportunity to earn money.)

“On the driving section, we let her think of what options she had when her cell phone rang while driving a car. We presented her with scenarios and asked what she could do. She came up with 4 places along her route home from school that she could pull the car off the road safely and check to see who was calling.

“When determining the number of minutes, we reviewed the various features (family, friends, etc.). We also had her come up with situations when it is better to use a land line instead of using up minutes on a cell phone.  We also reviewed that a call to home or to a family member's cell is always free, so safety first!”

Here are two Sample Contracts:

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