I have a tween. Yikes. It means I’m getting older, and it also means my son is disobedient. I commanded him when he was around 4 years old to promise to stop growing older and remain small and cute forever. But he chose not to listen.

Kids can be tough like that.

So he’s now officially in high school and growing up in the big world. My task as a parent is evolving as I’m about to become a father to a teenager – and over a decade of youth ministry has done little to prepare me for this!

One of the big stepping points we had to make was to purchase my son a mobile phone… sim card because he was getting a hand-me-down phone! As the one who understands technology a bit better in the household, I was tasked with looking into how to go about giving to my son one of the most powerful inventions in the last 20 years that has radically changed our world and consumption of media and that has opened up to billions of people worlds that are helpful and harmful.

No small task.

So, here’s how I looked into it.

First, in principle, I wanted to offer my son a device that he could carry to help us communicate with him when he was outside of the house. He’s still a young boy in many ways, and my role as a parent cannot be handed over to a device or the school.

Second, we were conscious of the fact that social media is clearly having a negative impact on teenagers and young adults. Access to harmful online content is also just a few clicks away. How could we give him a device that would oversee and limit this?

Third, we also wanted to ensure he wasn’t constantly on his phone. His parents already know how addictive phones can be – and I’m preaching to myself here the big need to put the phones down. To be present in the real world rather than in the digital world.

These principles led to a few decisions.

First, we were not going with an iPhone. Apparently, in the US, a massive percentage of teenagers have iPhones simply because every other teen has an iPhone. The pressure to conform in high school is high enough without the added burden of needing a branded piece of digital tech. And an expensive piece of tech as well!

Second, Google has provided some great help for parents. You can set up a new phone as a child account under the parent account. Google Family Link is super helpful here. It not only sets restrictions and levels on the apps that can be downloaded and used but also can help set restrictions on screen time. I arbitrarily set a limit of 90 minutes per day, which already feels like a lot – and to be honest, I’m not sure if it should be less (though more feels too much).

On social media. I realised that we haven’t said much about it yet. I hope to chat with him about it and delay it for as long as possible.

Third, Covenant Eyes has been helpful in providing screen monitoring software and accountability. (This is not a paid sponsorship – I personally use Covenant Eyes and have found it helpful. It is a paid subscription, but I think that adding $10/month onto your internet bill for this accountability is worth it.) It captures an image of what is happening on screen every minute when active and uses its AI to determine if any questionable images are being viewed. While not providing a filter, I can talk to my son if anything comes up.

Fourth, I found an online contract for my son to read through and sign. I chatted through it with him and explained how owning a mobile phone was a privilege, not a right. If he agreed to the terms, he could use the phone. If he broke the terms, then there would be set consequences.

Like our phone contracts, I may revisit this with him yearly, which feels arduous, but I think it is important to keep up with him and ensure he understands his privileges and the obligations he needs to meet.

These were our starting points in granting phone access to my son. I’m glad the high school he attends also has a no-phone policy. No phones can be brought into classrooms or used during school hours.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many negative stories of parents granting phones without thought or oversight. I hope these tips and links help parents thoughtfully engage their teens with this powerful technology.

If you’ve already given your child a phone, I don’t think it’s too late to talk to them about it. You may need to apologise that you need to dial back some of their use – but that, as their parents, you think it will be good for them. If you’re a parent to teens who are addicted to their phones, then it’ll be worth spending more time with them and working hard at not coming across as nagging. I’ve got a feeling that your teens already have a sense that the phones are addictive, and it will be good to help them tease out the negative impact it’s having on them.


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