Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Children's first cell phone contract

This weekend,  I bought each of my three boys a cell phone.  This has been a promised reward for doing their three hours of chores, four days a week.  They've been doing a great job.  With vacations and math trips and other non-chore weeks on the horizon, the end of chore days are in sight, and I wanted to reward the kids.  And so, I hurdled over the edge and connected my boys to the wider celular world.

For reasons that I probably don't have to explain, I wanted to avoid texting and internet use.  Okay, maybe I will explain anyway, because you might think my reservation is merely the money.  Oh, no, it's not that at all.  The concern can be explained in one word:  hyper-addicted.  These kids get near a live internet connection and don't come out of it until next Thursday, if we're lucky.  They don't eat, drink, bathe, or blink.   It's the flip side of ADHD, the complete fixation on techno-drugs.  So, I figured I wanted to start as simple as possible:  voice only.

I got a pre-paid plan and stuck enough money on it that they'll be able to use the phone essentially every other day on my dime.  Once they make the first call of the day, they get unlimited calls to people in the same network (in particular, their parents and sisters).  The rest of the minutes and the rest of the days, they'll have to pay for themselves.

I looked up all sorts of parent/kid agreements for cell phones.  Many mentioned texting, which we won't have for a while.  But I learned from these that it helps to remind kids that cell phone nastiness is just as nasty as face-to-face nastiness.  And that there are things adults take for granted that are completely non-obvious to kids.  So, before we parceled out the phones, I made them agree to the contract below.  I tried to add in both threats (removal of the phones) and promises (texting might be possible in the future).  We'll keep our fingers crossed and see how it goes.

In two days already, we've all learned a lot.  And tomorrow, I'll share what we learned -- what I think I did right (so far) and what I wish I'd been more careful about.

But for now, here's the agreement.

Cell Phone Agreement
Financial Agreement:
  • Mom and Dad will pay for the cell phone itself, for the charger, and for the hook-up fee.  We will continue to own the phones and the chargers.   They’re ours, not yours.  You may use the phones as long as we say so. 
  • If you break or lose the phone, you will be responsible for purchasing a new one.
  • Mom and Dad will purchase a bunch of minutes on each phone initially.  The purpose of these minutes is to allow our sons to call us:  that is, to call Mom, Dad, and each other.  We will continue to pay about $15/month for calls so that you can call us occasionally.
  • You will be responsible for purchasing any minutes to talk to friends or to anyone other than Mom, Dad, or extra days of talking time. 
  • Until further notice, the cell phone is for voice calls only.  Text messages might be possible at a later date, but first you have to demonstrate that you are responsible with the basic phone set up first.

Family Rules
  • Each night at 9 p.m., you will turn off your cell phone and give it to Mom.  She will charge the phone each night for you.  She will keep the phone until you are ready to leave for school on weekdays, or until 9 a.m. on weekends. 
  • You should be aware that we will check your phone logs.  We will have access to the numbers you call and the numbers that called you.  [Note: I value privacy, and think it's important to let my kids know that I don't randomly snoop, so this is mostly for the contrast with the other, private parts of their lives].

Safety rules:
  • Safety is important – this includes both your own safety and the safety of other people around you.  If Mom or Dad observes you using cell phones in a dangerous or unsafe way, you could lose cell phone privileges for a day, a week, or permanently.
  • If you’re on a bike, you will STOP the bike and pull over before talking on the cell phone.
  • If you are out after dark, you will not walk around and talk on the cell at the same time:  this makes you a target for robbery.
  • You will tell a parent if you get suspicious or threatening calls.

Politeness Rules
  • You will never, ever use the cell phone in an area that has signs or rules saying,  “Do not use cell phones here.”   This includes school, doctor’s offices, church, and the theater. 
  • You will not use the cell phone to tease or harass other people. 
  • You will not use the phone in a place where speaking loud disturbs other people.
  • No cell phones at meals.
  • You will call people only during normal “waking” hours, normally between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m.  You may call people before 9 a.m. only if you have permission from them to do so (for example, if they ask you to call them while you’re on the way to school).
  • Violations of these politeness rules will result in the loss of phone privileges, either temporarily or permanently.

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