Time to Ditch the Smartphone Contract

Building strong digital citizens does not begin with a smartphone contract
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You gave your child his first smartphone and want to ensure a safe, positive phone experience. Why not have him sign a smartphone contract, right? Seems like a smart idea. After trying this popular tool, many parents have discovered that the family smartphone contract is not worth the paper it is printed on. Building good digital citizens does not begin with a smartphone contract. Here are seven specific reasons why:

1. You are dealing with a child’s brain. Contracts are not for kids. The frontal cortex, the executive control judgment center in the human brain, is not fully developed until approximately age 25. Your child may indeed be very smart, but intelligence has nothing to do with maturity. His lack of maturity shows as he pleads with you and chips away at your leadership through overreaction, exaggeration, comparison and guilt.

2. You can’t trust them, and that’s OK. Remember, it is a child’s job to test boundaries, bend the rules, take risks, seek novelty, crave low-effort, high-reward activities, and have fun at all costs. Would you really trust them with the keys to your shiny new sports car because they signed a contract not to go over the speed limit? Your car insurance company doesn’t, and neither should you.

3. We don’t make deals with children. A contract is like making a deal. You are the parent; you do not make deals with your tweens and teens. Lead them with reason and love. 

4. Your children are not your equals. You are the parent. A contract implies that both parties have an equal say and there will be compromise on both sides. Your child may mistakenly think that she is your equal if you give her a contract and then begin the negotiation process. 

5. A phone contract may damage your relationship with your child. A child’s greatest need is to be unconditionally loved by his family. The very nature of contracts may make him feel like he is an outsider — you against him. Family conflict increases when rules are not clear and concise, and when contracts are broken. Develop manners, etiquette and responsibility in real life first, before phone ownership. 

6. Remember how well those chore charts worked?  

If you are still convinced that your smartphone contract will work, let’s talk about that chore chart. How did that work out? You can’t expect your children to follow a phone contract when they can’t consistently follow simple directions to floss their teeth, unload the dishwasher or empty the litter box without prompting. 

7. Smartphone contracts are impossible to enforce.  

In a survey conducted by State Farm of teen drivers, more than 80 percent admitted to using their smartphones while driving. I’m pretty certain that a clause to not text and drive is in every teen smartphone contract, yet they do it anyway. Most parents have no idea what their kids are doing on their phone for eight hours a day, and admit they are unable to track all cell phone activity. The burden falls on the parent to enforce and continually check if the agreed upon terms of the contract are being followed. Do you really have time for that?

The idea that a smartphone contract can protect your kids and teach them responsibility is a myth. Stop worrying about raising good digital citizens and focus on raising good kids. You don’t need a contract for that. 

Melanie Hempe is the founder of Families Managing Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families reduce childhood screen overuse. Learn more at familiesmanagingmedia.com.