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on Leading the Next Generation


A Cell Phone Agreement with a 13 Year Old

Janell Burley Hofmann gave her middle school son an iPhone for Christmas. He was overjoyed. But with it, came a “contract” for using the phone. In other words, with the privilege he also got some responsibility. I thought her contract is an interesting guide to leading Generation iY kids. The contract, published in the Huffington Post, went like this:


photo credit: Razordab13 via photopin cc

1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?

2. I will always know the password.

3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.” Not ever.

4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 p.m. every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 p.m. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30 a.m. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill.
*Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.

6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.

7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay out of the crossfire.

8. Don’t text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.

10. No porn. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask a person — preferably me or your father.

11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear — including a bad reputation.

13. Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO (fear of missing out).

15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.

16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain-teasers every now and then.

17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without Googling.

18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.

Let me know what you think. Is this “agreement” too strict? What do you like about it? What don’t you like?


  1. Joe Cox, Director of Next Gen on January 9, 2013 at 6:47 am

    It’s a good article and addresses most teen/phone realities. Times will need to adjust. Also, many families are dropping their land lines because its cheaper. This is a great cut and paste tool for our ministry.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Glad you found it helpful!

    • Raichu on January 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      That’s a really good point about dropping land lines. At some point a cell phone for every family member will be almost a necessity. I know that when I move out I won’t be getting a land line because I just don’t see the point in going to the trouble or spending money on that.

  2. Charlene on January 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I think it’s a wonderful plan. It can be tweaked for the individual and family, but most importantly, all the bases are covered here–expectations, accountability, and the love–that “we” will work through this together if we fall and when we succeed is a love net.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:50 pm

      Great point – I do appreciate the last point reminding the child that even when they mess up, we’re on the same team. Students need to be reminded of this frequently – sometimes we should even to say it out loud.

  3. Kia on January 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Every individual under age 18 should have to sign and uphold this agreement for any electronic device. This is something I will keep in mind for my now 3 year old. He’s going to have electronics soon than I would prefer..

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:48 pm

      Definitely – those days will be here before you know it! You’re smart to start making decisions now before you’re in the situation.

    • Raichu on January 10, 2013 at 4:42 pm

      I don’t know about under 18. Maybe under 16. At some point you have to let people stretch their wings a little bit. I think jumping into adult life at 18 and being treated like a child up until the day before could be jarring.

  4. JJ on January 9, 2013 at 10:12 am

    I actually just read the article on facebook, and then I opened my e-mail & here it it. As someone who works with youth development I think contracts for many things are effective out laying out CLEAR expectations. If the 18 points are the parents expectations GREAT! I agree with a LOT of them, but either way the example is wonderful!!

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:47 pm

      It’s true, and interesting, how much attention this story is getting. Clear expectations are unfortunately rare in our world. I hope this example encourages us all to take ownership of the expectations we communicate.

  5. Ted Weyn on January 9, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Great! I shared on FB b/c we have so many friends in this season of life with their kids.

    We have always set similar rules with Facebook, and other social media. They can have an account with these if:

    1) we have to be their friends/connections on that outlet
    2) we have to have the password
    3) 1 strike and your out, applies, this isn’t baseball, its your future

    Like a car, these outlets if used properly can be enriching and rewarding, take the user to experiences we might never had without it. However, if not respected they can be deadly.

    Thanks for sharing Tim!

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      Great guidelines for social media, Ted. Thanks for sharing. I’m excited to see parents taking an active role in creating and communicating clear guidelines for their kids.

  6. Steve Barnaby on January 9, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    If a parent demonstrate this much distrust of their child, they would be wiser not to “loan” them the phone. This agreement would only serve to diminish the relationship.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:42 pm

      I don’t think this contract exhibits a lack of trust in the child at all. I doubt this parent handed her son the contract and the phone without a lengthy conversation. Open and honest talks about expectations and difficult topics actually serve to deepen parent / child relationships and alleviate stress for the child – and the parent

      • a mom mom mommy mom on January 11, 2013 at 10:40 pm

        the way it’s worded is very condescending… number 18 is good, but some of it I wonder about. You can have a conversation about rules without wording them this way. And honestly, with the restrictions she put on it, she should have gotten him a traditional phone, ad an iPod touch. He doesn’t really need the data plan.

  7. Joseph Lalonde on January 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I thought her plan was inspiring. Not only did was it used to teach responsibility it also taught respect.

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      Good thoughts, Joe. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Tamara in TX on January 9, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    We just bought my middle school daughter a phone for Christmas. I put out my feelers on Facebook for other similar “contracts” and rules my friends have with their kids…many shared ideas with the ones in your example. Thanks for the additional thoughts and ideas. Incidentally, my husband and I had to rethink some of our own phone policies and etiquette to insure we’re setting a good example…ouch!

    • Tim Elmore on January 9, 2013 at 11:45 pm

      So true! When we start to enforce rules, we have to look in the mirror first. I hope the process makes all of you more conscious of how you use technology.

  9. Brian Musser on January 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I like the contract a lot. Clear and explicit guidelines are the key for developing responsibility within a person. Knowing what needs to be done is a good way to see if someone is responsible enough to do it. But I think rule number 3 could actually conflict with numbers 11 and 14 at times.

  10. Raichu on January 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    I think it’s weird. How is she going to monitor things like “look out the window” or “listen to music that I think is un-mainstream enough”?

    There are parts that I definitely agree with, and one or two things I don’t. But I do agree with the general idea that “with privilege comes responsibility”. I just think the list should have been more concise. A list of things that would have phone privileges immediately suspended until further notice would have been good – things like porn, using the phone to lie/cheat, being rude to someone with it, etc.

  11. Ronda on January 31, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    They should always bring it to school. It will be your life line to your child incase of a bomb scare or a lockdown this has happened 2x this year for my kids school and no we do not live in the city it a quite rural town

  12. Shannon Moton Russell on July 29, 2013 at 8:05 am

    This is Great!! Thanks

  13. scunning33 on October 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I think it is a good idea, but what about the parents who cannot turn their devices off, text instead of call, etc? Many adults look at their phone before going to bed, when they wake up in the middle of the night, and first thing in the morning. I think a lot of adults need to look at and sign this contract too! Nothing worse than “do as I say, not as I do” style parenting.

    • Tim Elmore on October 15, 2013 at 11:07 am

      So true. Thank you for sharing! I believe if we start to enforce the rules we have to look in the mirror to see our own behavior.

  14. Joao Pedro Trindade on October 17, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Well…. I did that a long time ago.. I understand that this is in the news but it shouldn’t… My daughter knows this since child. She’s growing, knowing all this rules and that i’m making all efforts to give her a good life, making sacrifices, commit to things, learn how to be greater and decent. I have all this rules without a contract.

  15. Getting married. Planning ahea on July 11, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Saved for future use. Thanks!

  16. cari on September 22, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I don’t understand why the child at 13 has a phone if he/she isn’t taking it to school. I realize they aren’t to use them during school, but what if there is an issue on the way to and from? I like the overall idea tho.

  17. MattMarsh on November 26, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Tim, you were always one of my favorite all time pastors at Skyline and made early adulthood easier thru your love for what you did! Love this article! Now that I have kids of my own I appreciate your article and words of wisdom.

  18. Tracey Wozniak on February 24, 2015 at 8:05 am

    BRAVO! YAY!! Post MORE like this. We are a family just coming up on these challenges. It cut right to the heart of it. We can adjust where appropriate but it gave a SOLID skeleton with strong bones. Our goal is to help them navigate successfully yet continually find ourselves coaching where we don’t have experience. THANK YOU.

    • ACE on August 4, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      Considering a flip phone for our middle school daughter, for purpose of getting in touch with us (& vice versa) in case plans change (practice/ traffic etc). She has an ipad for internet use and games. Does anyone use a flip phone? Then upgrade to an iPhone for HS.

  19. Bad mom on November 13, 2018 at 1:00 am

    Wondering how realistic this is for 2018… when you sign up for family plans at the local mobile carriers place. Yes, my 13 year old has a $1,000 phone, but we all do, including my 17 year old daughter and my husband and I. It came with the package deal. My son for the most part isn’t too bad but bad enough. He constantly talks to girls–one imparticular. When the phone chimes, he most certainly will drop everything from what he’s doing to what he’s watching to who he is talking to and answer her immediately. This drives me crazy. And he doesn’t communicate with me on the phone. More than I’d like to admit, he doesn’t answer most of my calls and or texts. And if he is out, he won’t text me—I have to call or text him to find out what is going on. It is frustrating. We had a contract too, it didn’t take long for him to break it and start compromising. Save yourself the headache, don’t let them have a phone. They won’t NEED it.

    Another hassle, seems like I’m the only parent that takes away the phones. My daughters friends, always available never gets phone taken away. My son, all but one friend. This girl he is talking to, she’s always available at all times. There is no pause… if I would let them, they would text the day away. My 13 yr old son is bigger than me now, taller too—he comes at me with such anger when I take it, it’s hard to keep calm. He doesn’t realize what this technology has done to him. He barely has any chores because he won’t do them, if he does, it takes constant telling until I threaten to take his phone. That is it, that’s the only thing that works. But then the next day, he forgets and doesn’t care, so it is the same fight every single day!!! I wish I could go back in time, take that iphone and shove it up Steve Jobs ass!! It has become such a head ache, and a distraction—much like a ball and chain. Save yourself, and your kids… don’t keep upgrading. After my kids graduate, I plan on going back to flip phone or just a landline will do.

  20. […] the phone that you purchased, before they ever get it in their hands. I believe you can craft an agreement even after they have a phone. This one can clarify your expectations about dangerous or damaging […]

  21. […] the phone that you purchased, before they ever get it in their hands. I believe you can craft an agreement even after they have a phone. This one can clarify your expectations about dangerous or damaging […]

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A Cell Phone Agreement with a 13 Year Old