Cell phones … love or hate them, they’re not going away. My family has just four of them, but each is the latest version with the coolest features. And with these new phones I also got a larger bill, less conversations with my kids (and wife) and service that seems to be worse than I had before. Still, when I talk to friends or hear cell phone stories from other parents, it’s clear my problems don’t stack up.
Recent reports show that about 80% of Americans currently own a smartphone and the average American household spends $1,074 for cellular service. That’s up 77% from a decade ago. And while there is no concrete answer to when is the perfect time for a child to have a phone, it doesn’t take a rocket-scientist to figure out that over time a parent will pay thousands of dollars just so that a kid can send meaningless texts, take hundreds of selfies or play games. Oh yeah, there may also be a call made sometime.
To be honest, I didn’t mind paying a large monthly phone bill until it started costing me the non-money things. That’s when I really started thinking about the “real need” for cell phones and why kids always thought the latest model was the right one for them. I also wondered if parents aren’t doing a disservice to their kids by not making them contribute in some way to this never ending billing cycle. Maybe kids would appreciate the big commitment parents have made if they had some skin in the game too.
So at my house, we’ve put some rules in place and my kids are paying a portion of the bill each month. I’ve got my family back and our phone budget is under control. Not to say that there wasn’t a “help me understand” moment with the kids, but life is better. Even they admit it.
If you’re buying a phone for the kids for Christmas (or soon after), see if any of these suggestions can help you. Remember, you’re the parent and if you’re paying for the phone, you’re the boss!
A Smartphone is a Privilege: Contrary to what our kids think, having any mobile device is a privilege, not a right. There is no parenting law that states kids MUST HAVE a cell phone. Now, I know that there are parents out there who swear that the $1000 phone they just got their child is in case of an emergency” and I get it. If this is your main concern, does your child need a $1,000 phone to make the emergency call? So, sit down and explain that a smartphone is a privilege and if they don't want that stripped down, emergency only, flip phone they should probably start thinking that way.
Kids Should Contribute: That's right, if kids want more than a basic phone, they need to pay some or all of the bill each month. We all know that you appreciate things more when you’ve had to buy them, and kids are no different. This is a perfect opportunity for you to sit down and teach a valuable lesson about how much things cost and that you (the parent) are the owner of the phone unless the child is contributing to the payments. If your child is too young for a real job, then this is when you have a talk about chores and allowance. My daughter is still trying to figure out how much dog poop needs to be picked up to afford more phone storage.
No Child Privacy: This also seems to be a big issue in many families. Parents want to know what kids are doing on the phone and kids are doing all they can to hide what they are doing. My question is – why the fight? Unless the child is paying for the phone, there is no privacy. We told our daughter from day one, unless you are paying for the phone, we know all the passwords and we will check randomly. She also has the app where we can track her and until she is paying for the phone, it stays or the phone is gone. Too harsh? All she has to do is buy her own phone and pay for it.
No Cell Around Meals: One of the first rules we put in place was no phones around family meals. Now we only have a handful of these each week so you’d think it would be easy. Well, not at first. However, everyone soon accepted it and we found ourselves having fun talking and laughing about what’s happening in our individual worlds. If you do this, make sure to keep the rule in place when eating out too. Ever notice an entire family sitting at a restaurant and they are all staring at phone screens?
Breaking Down The Bill: Here’s a great teaching moment for your kids. Go through the monthly bill with them and show them what they spend their money on. As they grow up, this will help them understand the fees, changes in plans, usage and overages. If the time comes to upgrade, make sure your child is present so he or she can see the process and the upselling that goes on. The same could be said when it’s time to buy a car.
So, that's my opinion for dealing with cell phones in your family. These worked for us but as you make a few adjustments in how you deal with this dilemma, you might have other things as well. I think taking a stronger stance will get you less fights and more facetime with your kids. Your wife (or husband) too.