Recently, a friend of mine told me about the experience of giving his kid his first cell phone (I think around age 11.) As part of the experience, he decided to write up a contract with rules of engagement. He went through it with his kid in detail and they both signed it.
I had stored this away to blog and thought of it yesterday as I was walking to dinner from Harvard Square to Central Square. The number of people walking down the street staring at or typing on their phones blew my mind. While many of them were college-aged (given Harvard and MIT), some were older. I know some of this is the density of the city (vs. where I live), but the dynamic surprised me, especially since it was a beautiful early fall evening.
My walk ended up being more of a “dodging people who weren’t paying attention” kind of drill which could be some bad video game that an AI is using our universe to play. Regardless, it feels like a cell phone contract like the one below might be helpful to kids, and their parents, and everyone else.
I, ______________, understand and agree to the following:
This phone is provided to
me by my parents for my responsible use. It belongs to my parents and they may
take it away any time, and for any reason they deem appropriate. They have the
right to see anything and everything that I do on it.
The reason my parents have provided me this phone is that they believe that I endeavor to act and interact responsibly and that I have worked for and deserve more independence at this point in my life. This phone will primarily be used for: (1) Reasonable communication with loved ones, friends, coaches, and other people in my life; (2) To help me feel safe and act safely as I strive to increase my independence; and (3) as a lifelong and passionate learner, help me better educate myself on the go. Excessive use of this device for activities outside these three listed could result in the confiscation of my phone and digital privileges.
Possession of this phone carries with it a great responsibility. It is a powerful device that can enhance my life if used properly but has the ability to cause serious problems as well if used irresponsibly or in an unhealthy manner. I promise to use it with caution and thoughtfully. To aid me in doing so, I promise to be guided by the principles below and to follow both the letter and the spirit of the rules below. My parents have the right to amend these rules at any time.
BASIC DEVICE RESPONSIBILITY
- I will ensure that my
phone is charged at all times.
- I will take proper care
of my phone. If I fail to do so, I will pay
for repair or replacement.
- I will ensure my phone is
with me (and charged see #1) when I am out of the house so a family member can
- I will immediately get
off or hand over my phone if a parent tells me to.
- There is no such thing as
privacy online. Anything I type into my phone
can be copied, read and spread. So, I
understand that my parents (and possibly government agencies) have the right and
ability to review the contents of my phone at any time.
- I will not text, email or post anything that I
would not be happy being on the front page of the NY Times tomorrow.
- I will not take or
receive inappropriate photos/videos. If something is sent to me that I think
may be inappropriate I will hand my phone to my parent immediately. If I am not
near a parent, I will close out the app and call a parent immediately.
- I will not add any app
without a parent’s consent.
- When walking in public,
my phone will be in my pocket.
- I will not listen to
music or look at my screen while I am walking or biking.
- If I have to do something
on my phone while out in public, I will stop moving, move to the side of the
sidewalk, take care of it, then replace my phone in my pocket before I start
- I realize that this
smartphone makes me a target for thieves, and I will make a point of being
aware of my surroundings when I use it.
- I will never give out
personal information to anyone online without talking to one of my parents
- I will never answer or
ask questions about sex online.
- If I ever receive
information or messages on my phone that are upsetting to me in any way I will
let my parents know about it.
- I will not give anyone
outside my family the password to my phone unless it is urgent. If I do give
such a person my password, I will change the password as soon as it is
- I will always have “Find
my iPhone” (or other tracking mechanisms) turned on so that my parents can see
where I am at all times.
- If I am pressured by
anyone to use the phone in a way that violates any of these rules or my own
sense of what is appropriate, I will refuse to the best of ability, blame my
parents and their rules, and report this to my parents promptly.
- I will acknowledge
someone’s presence when they enter a room, even if I am on my phone.
- At mealtimes, the
smartphone and all other devices are out of sight, both at home and at
- I will always pick up the
phone if a parent calls, provided it is safe to do so. I will always answer a
text immediately if they text, provided it is safe to do so. If it is not safe,
I will call back or text as soon as it is safe to do so.
- When talking face to face
with another person I will not be on my phone.
- I will not use this
technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.
- I will never involve
myself in conversations that are hurtful to others. If I am unsure whether
something might be offensive or hurtful to someone else, I will NOT text,
email, post or otherwise communicate it digitally.
- I will never share
inappropriate photos, jokes, or websites with others. If I am not sure whether something is
appropriate or not, I will NOT share it without speaking to a parent.
- I will not text, email,
or say anything through this device I would not say in person.
- I will not text, email,
or say anything to someone that I would not say out loud with their parents in
- At important life moments
– for myself or others – the smartphone is out of site so I can be present.
- I will not take a zillion
pictures and videos. I will live my experiences without feeling the need to
- Technology is compelling
and addictive. I recognize this and will not allow it to crowd out the things
which are important in my life.
- I will never keep my
phone in my room overnight.
- I will adhere to the
screentime limits set by my parents which count across all devices.
- I will not use my phone
while doing homework unless it is to collaborate with a peer on a specific
- I will not be on social
media of any kind.
- If I feel that I am
becoming too involved in online activities I will ask for help, knowing that I
will not be judged or blamed for this.
- Before I pick up my
device, I will pause and think about whether I need to or whether I could be
doing something else more useful or enriching.
- Before I hit ‘send’ on
any email or text, I will pause and reflect on whether I’m being as thoughtful,
respectful and constructive as I can be, and I will reflect on whether I am
being true to my beliefs and our family values.
I acknowledge that having a cellphone is a privilege, not a right. I promise to use it with good judgement and to let you know when I make mistakes.
My Signature: _________________________________________
Mom’s Signature: ______________________________________
Dad’s Signature: ________________________________________
 And of course, my parents