The Holiday Season is here and many children and teenagers are already putting a list together about what they would like for the Holidays.  For many teenagers and even children in elementary school at the top of their list is an IPhone or some type of Snartphone.  Many teens may have a cellphone but they feel a cellphone is not sufficient enough for their needs.  They believe that they need an iPhone or its equivalent.  If they have an IPhone already, they want to upgrade to the newest version.  In today’s society many people including teenagers view cell phones as a necessity of life.  I have seen teenagers argue with their parents how they could not function at school or in life without their cellphones.  In fact, some teenagers become physically violent, if you take their cellphone away.  Most teenagers also say they need Smatphones, and a regular cellphone will not work for them. However, in my opinion, cellphones, especially Smartphones, are a privilege not a necessity.   We need to remember that fact.  Yes for some parents it is a tool they use to keep in contact with their child and for their child to use if they feel they are in danger.  With school shootings happening daily many parents do want a way to stay in contact with their child in case of an emergency.  A regular cellphone will do this, it doesn’t have to be an IPhone 15Pro.  However, since we are dealing with what I call the IPhone generation, most teenagers will not be satisfied and will feel cheated unless they have the latest version of the Smartphone on the market.

Students in middle school or high school will be asking to upgrade their phones.  As I stated above, they feel they need the latest version otherwise they cannot function successfully in their lives. Therefore, many children will be asking for the IPhone 15Pro for example.  Most children and teenagers who are asking for these expensive phones usually never consider the price.  They believe they are entitled to have the latest Smartphone.  One problem many children and teenagers neglect is inflation is high right now and many families can barely afford their rent let alone $1000 for an iPhone.  In fact, many cellphone providers such as, Verizon, offer a plan where you make monthly payments so you can automatically upgrade to the newest Smartphone when it is released.  However, the fact is middle and high school students do not need a powerful smartphone, they are not running a business.  Additionally, Smartphones provide numerous ways for teenagers to get into trouble.  Look at how many adults get into trouble with Smartphones and how they use them.  Additionally, many teenagers know how to hide the content on their phones, the apps they have on their phones and they also usually know how to get around most parental controls that parents install on their children’s smartphones. 

Many people have forgotten that cellphones are privileges not necessities especially for teens and children in fifth grade or in Middle School.  They have grown up with everyone having a cellphone so they don’t see it as a privilege any more.  This is a common argument I encounter between children and parents.  Also it is common for children and teenagers to use guilt with their parents in order to get the phones they want.  They tell their parents if they cared, they would buy them the smartphone they need and want.  Remember being a parent is not a popularity contest.  Additionally, if their parents are divorced, they often will play their parents against each other as away to get the cellphone they want.  Furthermore, many teenagers do not consider how much these phones cost.  Additionally, the amount of money you spend on gifts for your child or teenager has no correlation with your love for your children or teenagers.  As a parent you need to do what you feel is best for your child.

Parents if you stop and think about it, why does an 11 year old child need an IPhone 15Pro? They do not need to track mileage or expense accounts nor do they need to remember their own doctor appointments.  There is really no reason they need a Smartphone.  Also if you do get them one, they do not need it with them all the time.  It is important to set limits where and when they use their phones.  Why do they need their cellphone when they go to bed?  Most teens who take their cellphones to bed will typically spend hours texting friends or watching YouTube.  When morning comes, they are too tired to get up because they were awake until 3am playing with their phone.

Smartphones are an area where technology has moved faster than our ethics. If you think about it, IPhones and Smartphones were not around in the year 2000. Now everyone including a majority of children in fifth grade and teens have an IPhone or Smartphone. In my opinion an adolescent does not need a cellphone until they enter Middle School and at that point all they need is a basic cellphone.  They need a basic phone so they can check-in with you if their plans change or if they feel they are in need of help.  Also remember since they have grown up with this technology, they know how to use it better than most adults.  As I mentioned above this means they can hide things on their phones that they don’t want parents to see and do it very easily.

As I stated above, there is no reason that a teenager really needs a Smartphone. They are not taking care of a family nor are they running a business. Therefore, a basic cellphone should be adequate for what they need it for. I understand that given the way our society has changed some parents may find that it is helpful to their family if a child in middle school has a cellphone. This is a decision that every parent needs to make based on their family’s situation.

The parent needs to make this decision, not let the child guilt them into buying them a cell phone. If you are divorced and have children, this may be extremely difficult, but the decision about if your child gets a cellphone or not, should be a joint decision by both parents and a decision you both agree on. One parent should not buy a cellphone without consulting the other parent and they should not use it as a weapon in the divorce.

If you decide that your middle school child is mature enough for a cellphone, you should discuss the rules and guidelines about using the phone prior to getting a phone. Some things to discuss are who they give their cell number to, not texting during class and not taking it into the bedroom at night so they can text most of the night.  As I stated, many kids will text with their friends until 2 or 3 am and then be too tired for school the next day.

Also there should be a discussion about sharing photos. You never know what someone will do with a photo if they get mad with you. Also there needs to be a discussion about the law.  It is not uncommon for teens to send their boyfriend/girlfriend nude photos of themselves.  What they don’t understand is they are under the age of 18 years old.  Therefore, if they have a nude picture of their 15 year old girlfriend, they can be charged with possession of child pornography.  Many may say this won’t happen to me, but I have had a number of teens in psychotherapy because they were charged with having child pornography.  Also you need to remember, once those pictures are out on the internet, they are out there forever.  There also needs to be a discussion about on-line perpetrators too.  There are many pedophiles on line trying to lure unsuspecting teens into their plans.  Your children need to understand this is a real risk and what to watch for.

Finally, it should be made clear that the phone does not belong to the child — the phone belongs to you the parent. Yes you are giving them the phone to use, but it still belongs to you. If you ask for it back, then the child hands it over no questions asked.  Also if you feel they are using their phone in an inappropriate manner, all you need to do is call your cellphone carrier and request that their phone line be suspended.  It cost you nothing and it is an easy way to control the phone.  When you feel that your child has earned the right to have the cellphone back all you do is call your carrier to reinstate that phone line.

It is very important that you and your teen have an agreement about conditions regarding their cellphone use.  All of these conditions and agreements should be written down in an agreement that you sign and the child signs. You each get a copy of the agreement and one copy is posted on the refrigerator. If there are any disputes about a rule, you simply go back to the agreement and you follow what is written. A written agreement is very important because I have seen parents have conversations, make agreements and then 6 months later there is a disagreement and everyone’s memory is slightly different so you have a big fight.

Also given how many adults have gotten into trouble with their Smartphones, if you are going to allow your child to use any kind of cellphone you must discuss the pros and cons so the child or teen understands the responsibility they are assuming, if you allow them to use a smartphone.

Below I have included a sample contract that you can use with your child and modify as you need: 

Cellphone Contract

I, child’s name, will not bring my cellphone to the family dinner table.

I will not go over our plan’s monthly minutes or text message limits. If I do, I understand that I may be responsible for paying any additional charges or that I may lose my cellphone privileges. 

I understand that I am responsible for knowing where my phone is, and for keeping it in good condition.

I understand that my cellphone may be taken away if I talk back to my parents, I fail to do my chores, or I fail to keep my grades up.

I will obey rules of etiquette regarding cellphones in public places. I will make sure my phone is turned off when I am in church, in restaurants, or quiet settings.

I will obey any rules my school has regarding cellphones, such as turning them off during class, or keeping them on vibrate while riding the school bus.

I promise I will alert my parents when I receive suspicious or alarming phone calls or text messages from people I don’t know. I will also alert my parents if I am being harassed by someone via my cellphone. 

I will not use my cellphone to bully another person.

I will send no more than _____ texts per day I understand that having a cellphone can be helpful in a emergency, but I know that I must still practice good judgment and make good choices that will keep me out of trouble or out of danger.

I will not send embarrassing photos of my family or friends to others. In addition, I will not use my phone’s camera to take embarrassing photos of others. I understand that having a cell phone is a privilege, and that if I fail to adhere to this contract, my cell phone privilege may be revoked.

Parent Responsibilities I understand that I will make myself available to answer any questions my tween might have about owning a cellphone and using it responsibly.

I will support my child when he or she alerts me to an alarming message or text message that he or she has received. I will alert my child if our cellphone plan changes and impacts the plan’s minutes.

I will give my child _______ warning(s) before I take his or her cellphone away 

Signed ______________________________ (Tween) Signed ______________________________ (Parents).  Date ______________________________

Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist who has been working with children, middle school and high school students for over 25 years.  He is considered an expert in this field.  Dr. Rubino is one of the founding members of the National Alive & Free Program, a program designed to work with teens. For more information about Dr. Michael Rubino’s work and private practice visit his website at or  or his Facebook page or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.