Teens and Cell Phones: What’s a Mom to Do?


Teens and Cell Phones: What's a Mom to Do?

If your teenage years were spent tying up your home’s sole phone line for hours on end, things aren’t really that different today. The big change? Teens are in control of their own phones, which essentially function as a portal to their entire social world.

While it’s great to no longer have teens taking over the home phone, there are definitely some concerns parents have about teen cell phone use. Cyber bullying, spending money, and phone addictions are just a few considerations. But navigating appropriate cell phone use can be choppy waters for parents — it’s the equivalent of setting a super early curfew or rifling through a teen’s diary for insights into their life.

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We’ve gathered eight tips for parents of teenagers to help you set some cell phone guidelines while still giving them plenty of freedom to talk, text, and share away!

1. Consider a Parental Control App

If you pay your child’s phone bill and they’re under the age of 18, you have the right to monitor how they’re using that phone. There are several parental control apps out there, most of which operate on a subscription basis, including TeenSafe, Pumpic, My Mobile Watchdog, mSpy and The Phone Sheriff. These apps can perform a range of functions, including tracking your teen’s GPS location, texts or emails sent and received, apps downloaded, and even setting limits on how long your teen spends on their phone.

If you’re going to use one of these apps, your best bet is to be upfront with your teen about the fact you’re doing so. Straight out spying can undermine their trust in you – whereas telling them outright that you’re using a tracking app will simply encourage them to use their phone appropriately.

2. Select a Plan That Works for Them – and Be Clear About What it Includes!

We’ve all heard the horror stories about teens that rack up thousands of dollars in cell phone charges, particularly when traveling abroad. Try looking for a family plan that also offers bonus benefits, like a discounted or free smartphone, particularly if you’re getting a child their first phone.

Talk to your teen about what uses data and at what rates — you can use T-Mobile’s handy data calculator to give you real insights on what different apps and activities will use. Keep tabs on their data use by regularly checking your family’s account. If your teen can’t keep a lid on their data usage, opt for an unlimited plan – but perhaps have them pay the difference.

3. Limit App Store Access

Data isn’t the only place where spending can get out of control. Buying apps and purchasing in-app upgrades can quickly add up. Unless your teen has a job and steady income of their own, ensure that they have to get you to login to your app store account in order to download or make a purchase.

Not only will this ensure your teen isn’t spending thousands on apps, it will also allow you to see what they’re downloading — check the reviews and description to ensure an app is age appropriate before downloading.

4. Set Use Times

One of the biggest concerns — not just for teens — regarding cell phones is addiction. Most people can’t fathom walking out the front door without their phone safely in hand, but teens can take things to the extreme; staying up till all hours or being distracted by their phone while in class. While virtually every school has a clear cell phone use policy, it’s your job to set guidelines for other use.

For example, create a cell phone curfew and have your teen keep their phone outside of their room overnight. You can also keep their phone away until homework is completed. Or restrict use during family meals and other events. Encourage your teen to ‘unplug’ — if you’re heading out for a yoga class or a trip to the mall together, make a mutual vow to leave your phones at home.

5. Invest in School-Friendly Apps

Never forget: A smartphone is basically a portable computer. While it’s easy to label phones as ‘distractions’, they can also be valuable tools for your teen’s education and general organization. There are plenty of great apps out there that can help kids with time management (30/30), studying (Quizlet), notetaking (Notability), homework tracking (Studious) and SAT prep (SAT Up).

There are also tons of apps that can help supplement your teen’s learning in specific subjects, from a portable graphing calculator for math class to handy guide to tricky Shakespeare language to an interactive periodic table.

6. Have an Honest Talk About Cyberbullying and Safety

Chances are you’ve already talked to your teen about being safe on the internet – but having their phone gives them even more limitless potential for connecting with the world. Refresh the conversation and highlight some key do’s and don’ts. One major one? Remind them that although interacting online or via phone may feel fleeting and harmless, any digital content is a lot more permanent than they may imagine.

Snapchats can be screensaved and used for cyberbullying. Texts are regularly used in criminal cases as evidence of wrongdoing (including on a simpler level, like being accused of something at school). And yes, feelings can be hurt by a comment your teen leaves somewhere and then promptly deletes. Encourage your teen to be smart — if they wouldn’t say or do something in real life (that’s IRL in text speak), then they probably shouldn’t do it on their phone.

7. Stay Connected

Most parents aren’t buying their teens cell phones simply so they can chat with their friends. The biggest appeal is the connectivity — if you need to track down your child, you can now reach them wherever they are. . .in theory. Don’t be surprised if your teen is reluctant to pick up that phone call or text you back, especially if they’re out with friends.

If you’re paying for your teen’s phone, set some reasonable but enforceable guidelines for staying in touch. For example, ask that they get back to you within 30 minutes of receiving some sort of communication, unless they’re at a pre-established event that can’t be interrupted (like a concert or movie). Or ask them to text you when they’ve safely arrived at a destination, or are on their way home. If they repeatedly fail to communicate with you, consider ‘grounding’ their cell phone use.

8. Look at Warranties

Teens certainly aren’t alone in accidentally dropping or losing their phone — but they do have a reputation for being a little more reckless than adults. Most new phones are typically covered for the first 12 months after purchase for malfunctions and defects. However, if the phone is broken, lost, or stolen, they’re out of luck. When you’re buying a new phone for your teen, look at what the mobile provider has in terms of additional protection.

T-Mobile offers Premium Handset Protection that covers literally every phone mishap you can imagine. Whether your teen accidentally cracked their screen or dropped their phone in the pool, you can receive a new device in no time. When you’re spending several hundred dollars on a new phone, a little insurance can go a long way toward peace of mind.