Setting a few basic rules and limits for your child’s smartphone use can help safeguard against the common pitfalls that come with this technology. Be sure to explain the reasoning behind these restrictions, and get your teen’s input. Make reasonable concessions if there’s a particular issue that’s a sticking point. (The more democratic you are in creating these rules together, the more apt they are to follow them.) Here are some suggestions for rules you might adopt:

  • Have kids agree to take a specific number of “technology breaks” each week for an hour or two where they put the phone away.

  • Stay off the phone while walking around traffic and while driving. Get on the Internet together and watch videos of people walking off piers or into mall fountains to illustrate how dangerously distracting these devices can be. This should include the parking lot and streets just outside the school – one of the most chaotic and dangerous areas, as anyone whose ever picked up their kids after school knows all too well.

  • No texting before bedtime, and keep the phone out of arm’s reach at night.

  • Make a rule to put the phone away during homework. They interfere with a child’s ability to think, stay on task, and do quality work.

  • Have your child leave their phone in their locker during class, and call your child’s school and encourage teachers to set this rule for all students. Share with them the information in our chapter ‘This Is Your Brain on Technology’ about how having a smart phone in the vacinity lowers one’s cognitive skills.

Be clear about your stance on cyberbullying
Every child is capable of bullying, including your child, and one of the best hopes we have to address it is getting more parents to be proactive when it comes to cyberbullying. First and foremost you should be specific about what qualifies as cyberbullying:

  • Forwarding a hurtful message or embarrassing picture

  • Sending rude or nasty text messages

  • Spreading false information

  • Impersonating another child on a website or in chat rooms

  • Ganging up on a child in an online forum or message board

  • Using the phone to take stealth pictures of someone else to embarrass or humiliate them.

If you make it explicitly clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated, it’s often enough to get a child to think twice and refrain when the situation arises.

Decide on consequences

Work out a set of consequences for what happens if they break these rules, such as what will happen if you catch them cyberbullying. These should be reasonable penalties (loss of the phone for a certain number of days as opposed to total banishment) and should vary depending on the infraction. Not only will this make them more agreeable to any punishments you have to administer later, but it provides a good opportunity to hash over the expectations each of you have.