Tara Bone, contributing writer

The school year has begun, and if your child hasn’t bounced home yet to report that “everyone” in their class has a cell phone and they need one too, buckle up; this could be the year.

The question of when to hand over a cell phone, and all the responsibility that goes with it, is stressful. Our family started grappling with this five years ago. My mom anxiety hit overdrive when my oldest son’s sixth-grade English teacher gave extra credit to students who posted assignments on Instagram. He didn’t have Instagram or a cell phone. I wondered if our parental decision for him to wait to enter the tech universe was hurting him socially and academically. Fortunately, he’s survived just fine, but it was a confusing time.

Every family situation and child is different, and parents should feel empowered to make the best decision for their child without outside judgment. There’s a lot of information available to parents who are actively trying to help kids navigate the world of posts, tweets, and texts.

I dreaded the cell phone debate until I realized the very cell phone I was hiding from could be used as an opportunity to nurture healthy, tech-savvy kids. We live in a time when technology is part of life, and we all must learn to use it responsibly. Here are some tips from the experts:

Evaluate your child’s maturity level

Michael Oberschneider, psychologist and author, reminds parents that the part of a child’s brain that controls impulse control and decision-making is underdeveloped and won’t be fully developed until their mid-20s. He encourages parents to use cell phones as teaching tools and to monitor use, even for older teens.

Ask why

If your child needs a phone just to maintain communication, there are flip phones and watches. A smartphone with internet connection may not be necessary or wanted. Ask yourself if your child is ready to handle texting and online interactions on their own. Kids can start with a basic device and build up to a smartphone.

Discuss benefits and dangers

Talk openly and often about online predators, cyberbullying, sexting, and pornography. These issues are relevant, even in Cache Valley. Make sure your child knows that their texts and posts leave digital footprints that follow them into adulthood. On the flip side, encourage use of educational and hobby apps.

Create an iRules Contract

A contract between a parent and child can outline responsibilities and consequences associated with cell phone use. Parents can learn about and create their own iRules contract at janellburleyhofmann.com.

  • Monitor smartphones with parental control software that tracks online activity and sets boundaries. Recommendations: Qustodio, NetNanny, Boomerang, and Bark.
  • Don’t rely on parental control software only; Snapchat and Houseparty are difficult to monitor. Keep communication open and watch for mood changes.
  • Use a central charging station in a family area to put phones to bed at a specific time.
  • Don’t let kids have phones in their rooms at night.
  • Physically check phones/browser history and know all passwords.
  • Parents model appropriate cell phone behavior.
  • Discuss which games, apps, and websites are OK and which are not. Explain why.
  • Engage with kids; know their favorite apps.
  • Block adult content on all devices.
  • Designate screen-free zones in home.
  • Roleplay scenarios that may come up; what to do in a case of cyberbullying.
  • Teach budgeting skills with services like Ting.
  • Teach phone etiquette; only text/post what you would say in person.


  • The 8 Best Phones to Buy in 2018 for Kids: lifewire.com
  • iRules Contract: janellburleyhofmann.com or irules.co (co, not com)
  • mommyhighfive.com/kids-best-flip-watch-phones
  • American Academy of Pediatrics Safety Net Initiative
  • FBI Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety
  • Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive in Their Digital World by Deborah Heitner
  • Ollie Outside: Screen-Free Funby Michael Oberschneider
  • The Boogeyman Exists: And He’s in Your Child’s Back Pocket by Jesse Weinberger