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How to Handle Arguments with Kids About Phones

Millions of parents have walked into landmines, as they disagree with their child on any number of mobile phone mishaps, social etiquette or social media addictions. Emotional debates occur, which can divide parents and kids and lead to a breakdown in communication.

Parents often say things like:

  • “You’re always on your phone when we’re together.”
  • “You don’t look at me when you talk to me.”
  • “You don’t seem to know how to carry on a conversation in person.”
  • “You’re addicted to that phone and fail to do your chores!”
  • “You never look up from your phone!”

Young people often say things like:

  • “You are always nagging me about connecting with my friends.”
  • “You don’t get me. You don’t understand my life.”
  • “At least I’m not using drugs or smoking or drinking.”
  • “This is my way of relating to my friends!”
  • “Why don’t you leave me alone and let me do my own life?”

I have a suggestion that has worked for many parents along the way. It’s a step that not only guides the conversations on this topic, but it prepares teens for the world they are about to mature into as adults: a contract.

A Phone Contract

In 2013, I posted an article on our blog page about a “phone contract” between a mom and her child. The mother had purchased her daughter’s phone (as is usually the case) and the agreement enabled her (from the beginning) to outline the terms. In it, she basically reminds her child that Mom bought the phone and, therefore, owns the phone. Any time the child violates the agreement, the child must give up the device for a period of time. This is not unlike a contract a customer might enter with AT&T or Sprint or some other carrier. The difference is, this agreement is laced with love and understanding. If a parent hosts a conversation and lays out the terms before purchasing the device, things generally go better. Both parties agree to it and sign it. The key is that the parent must stick to the terms and enforce them.

You can borrow ideas from the agreement I posted, or you can make up your own. But reviewing a written agreement and then having both parties sign it helps them and you stick to the agreement later—when conflict arises. Be sure you include:

  • Who owns the phone and who is paying for it.
  • What you deem most important, like boundaries to phone use.
  • What you allow them to do with it.
  • What the benefits and consequences are of keeping or failing to keep the terms.

The last bullet above is most important. The agreement only improves behavior if the terms have “teeth” to them. You will need to enforce what you agreed to do in the contract. For instance, if they fail to heed the terms and the agreement says you’ll take their phone away for a day or two—you must follow through on that promise. Both of you will live through it. Just remember, if you take the phone away, you’ll also need to take their tablet, laptop and other devices as well, or losing the phone will not incentivize them to improve. They’ll just hop on another device.

This phone contract actually may be their first taste of reality. As adults, our lives are full of agreements like this, such as mortgage payments, credit card bills, car payments, etc.  They will see the value and the gravity of making an agreement with someone who provides a service to them.  This is healthy when done with care.


Rate Yourself on the Parental Engagement Scale:
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Find out how your parenting measures up with our brand new Parental Engagement Scale. This scale is a simple tool enabling you to evaluate your parental approach. The hope is that none of us are guilty of moving to either extreme on the scale, but your reflection and subsequent marks will enable you to see where improvement is needed. This is only helpful as you respond as honest and accurate as possible. Place an “X” on each dotted line, indicating where you believe you’ve set the example for your children. Afterward, discuss your answers.

Fill out the form below to access the Parental Engagement Scale and watch the free bonus video.

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How to Handle Arguments with Kids About Phones