20141110 MOM RULES

Many families draft a personal contract that lays out the rules of cellphone usage for their children.

The year is new. The topic is the same. When it comes to teenagers, the issue never changes. I am talking about cellphones, of course. Because that’s all parents and teens ever talk about.

When can I have one? When I say you can.

Why don’t I have one already? Because I haven’t said you could.

All my friends have a phone! If all your friends had diarrhea, would you want that, too?

Thanks for the phone! I love it … I mean you! I love you, too, sweetie.

Why are you following me on Instagram? I am keeping my eye on you! And that picture is not appropriate!

I am NOT spending too much time on my phone! Look up from your phone when you say that to me!

And so it goes, a seemingly endless phone conversation. The resident teenager at my house received her first cellphone, which has no data plan, just voice and text. She’s in the eighth grade, which is about a year earlier than we had planned to give her a phone. You can call us spineless weaklings, but we held out as long as we could. And it’s not like she hadn’t already mastered the family iPad and basically turned it into her own personal communication device, anyway.

Our family has also opted for the teen cellphone contract, which is a document written by the kid’s parents (by Mom, mostly), that lays out guidelines our daughter must follow in order to keep her phone. Parents and family experts debate the effectiveness of these kinds of agreements — many parents like having rules written down so there’s no dispute about what’s acceptable, but others say the contracts are unenforceable (one writer online compared them to failed “chore lists” of tween years, which start out as a good idea, only to be slowly forgotten).

I don’t know how effective our family’s contract will be, but if nothing else, the deal clearly lays out what is expected of the child. Answer calls from your parents. Don’t answer calls from strange people (unless they are your parents, then refer to Rule 1), don’t share improper photos or information, no phones at the dinner table — you get the idea. The general theme is that we — Mom and Dad — are in charge.

That’s the biggest rule of all. You don’t need a piece of paper to codify it, either. Just be the boss.

My wife added one stipulation that’s a bit different from other cellphone contract prototypes you can find on the internet. We will occasionally provide our child with some reading material about online safety, appropriate phone use and educational apps. If she’s going to use a phone, social media and websites, she’d better be smart about it.

Will any of this lead to a happy, peaceful co-existence between parents and a cellphone-toting teen? Check back with me later. Also, send me advice about your family’s experience with cellphone usage. Email is fine, because I don’t answer calls from unfamiliar numbers. That’s a rule.

Ralph Berrier Jr. has worked at The Roanoke Times since 1993, was the paper’s music reporter from 2000-2007 and he currently writes the Dadline parenting column and is a general assignment features reporter.

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