Kid's First Cell Phone Contract or Written Agreement Ideas

As part of researching and writing my book Raising A Screen Smart Kid: Embrace the Good and Avoid the Bad in the Digital Age, a lot of people have asked me about cell phone contracts between kids and parents. Many families find that when they give their child a cell phone, particularly their first cell phone, that having a contract or a written agreement is helpful. 

Rather than provide you with a sample contract, I’m including a list of things you may want to consider when creating your own. Here’s the problem: this is a complicated landscape and it changes all the time. What works for one kid in a family may not work for another. What works really well in September may be a total bust by June. A one size fits all contract simply doesn't work. Every family is different and every kid is unique.

Feel free to cut and paste any part of this, if you find it helpful.

I also suggest you think carefully about how you define the terms, avoiding those that are subjective or vague. For example, creating a rule for a twelve-year-old requiring them to “make good choices online” is unfair. What does “good” mean anyway? And who gets to decide that? 

Here are three reasons why contracts or agreements can be great:
  1. You can create it with your kids, so they feel more invested in its terms.
  2. Everyone is on the same page and expectations are totally clear.
  3. When rules get broken, parents can remain neutral while enforcing consequences, minimizing arguing or drama.
Here are three reasons contracts or agreements can be meaningless or ineffective:
  1. Parents don’t enforce consequences or don’t do so consistently.
  2. The rules or terms don’t change as needed, or as the child gets older.
  3. The rules or terms are impossible for kids to live up to or are too vague/subjective.
The following are a list of things to consider including in a cell phone contract. They’re merely suggestions and hypotheticals to consider and should reflect your child's age and maturity. 
  • Who pays for the phone? 
    • Who pays for services, data, games, in-app purchases, music, etc?
    • If the phone is broken or lost, who pays to fix or replace it?
    • If new screen protector or case is required, who pays for that?
  • When is access to the phone is allowed?
    • Not during school
    • Not in a bedroom at night
    • Charges in the kitchen at 9pm every night
    • No texts or calls after 10pm
    • Only after school and on weekends
  • Parents must approve all apps and downloads
  • Parents must have all usernames and passwords to all accounts
  • Monitoring policies (be transparent to build trust)
    • Parents can have access at any time, to anything
    • Parents will periodically “spot check” to make sure all is well
    • Parents will check phones daily
    • Parents will check phones, but allow kids certain degrees of privacy (not read texts, DM’s, etc)
  • Requirements to keep phone:
    • Grades/homework
    • No phone during homework time
    • Behavior 
      • No issues/trouble at school (emails from teachers, detentions, etc)
      • Follow all classroom or school rules in regards to using/having phone 
      • No fighting with parents
      • Follow house rules
      • Do all chores
      • When in public or a guest in someone’s home, will follow rules of basic etiquette and use phone respectfully (specifics should be discussed)
  • Online Behavior
    • Will not seek out adult or explicit materials
    • Will not use bad or abusive language
    • Will never ask for or create explicit images of self or others
    • Will immediately tell parent or trusted adult if someone sends them such an image
    • Never share personal information (address, phone number, birth date, etc)
  • Social Media behavior
    • Parents must approve all social media accounts
    • No new, spam, fake, group, or private accounts can be created without parents' permission
    • Parents must have all usernames and passwords
    • Parents must be friends or followers of all accounts
    • No rude, aggressive, or bullying behavior on social media is allowed
    • No posting of explicit or inappropriate materials
    • Parents may ask that a post be taken down, and the kid must comply
    • Don’t geocode posts or share your location
    • Don’t share photos that reveal your address, license plate, phone number, etc.
  • Safety
    • If anyone threatens, harasses, or bullies the child, they will tell parents immediately
    • They will not communicate with people that they don’t know in real life
    • They will not add strangers as contacts, friends, or followers
    • They will not have public social media accounts
    • No texting and driving (when they're old enough) 
Consequences should be part of the agreement and should be clearly stated, for example:
When a rule is broken, the following consequences will be enforced:
First offense, kid loses/has limited access to their phone for one day
Second offense, kid loses phone for one week
Third offense, kid loses phone for two weeks

NOTE: Limiting access is an option to consider. I heard from so many kids that fear of losing their phone completely was a big factor in lying to parents and being sneaky about rule-breaking. It also was the primary reason kids gave for not telling parents about incidents of bullying, harassment, and solicitation. 

Being grounded from your phone can include a very quick (five or ten minute) am check-in and pm check-in, so that kids can respond to anything that has come up and not feel completely socially isolated.

If a social media rule is broken, for example:
First offense, kid loses access to social media account for one day
Second offense, kid loses access for one week
Third offense, kid loses access to their account or has to share the account with parents who have full access.

Lastly, these rules should change over time. The goal is to give kids the chance to become more responsible. As they prove themselves and as they get older, it's a good idea to revisit your agreement and adjust it to provide more freedom and flexibility.

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