Smart Phone Contracts Between Parents and Pre-Teens – Safeguard or Overkill?

This guest post was contributed by Stacey Ross who blogs at San Diego Bargain Mama and is a mother of two. She and I share the same thoughts and values about raising our children and technology. From time to time you’ll find her posts here because I agree with what she has to say and think it’s worth your time to know that there are more like-minded parents in cyberspace. Thank you Stacey!

The mom who wrote the 18 rules for her son to follow with his new smart phone has struck a chord with parents across the nation, as her story went so viral starting Christmas day 2012, that perhaps Santa ran into her long list, too! Ever since Janell Burley Hofmann posted on her blog a contract for her 13-year-old son to follow if he wants the privilege of being a smart phone owner, she has been receiving enough interest, feedback, and interview requests that her computer even crashed! Why such the hype? Because it is a hot topic; that’s why!

Like many parents, Hofmann has concern about the safety and well-being of her son surrounding his technology use. When kids are first entrusted with a car, commonly they have guidelines and restrictions, so established boundaries regarding tech use should be right up there, too, right? When our kids go mobile, concerns arise, naturally, and while a given to many kids, it is a huge milestone that many of us have not experienced before! Fortunately, smart phones come with some free and add-on safeguards; the parent controls, filters and monitors can help put us at ease – especially with tracking and monitoring services. Kids, however, tend to find clever ways to circumvent things, so parents’ awareness and involvement is crucial, but to what extent becomes a personal decision.

While Hofmann is confident that her son is willing to abide by her list, other parents contend that having so many rules might be overkill, setting things up for failure (some appear to be non-measurable guidelines, non-measurable rules, leaving much gray area). Ultimately, the action this mom is taking via her contract truly serves as a testament to the modern-day parenting, serving also as some form of ceremonial acceptance of the merge of man and machine!

“Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine. I love you. I hope you enjoy your awesome new iPhone,” Hofmann concludes!

Here are Hofmann’s rules for her son:

1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren’t I the greatest?

2. I will always know the password.

3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad”. Not ever.

4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30pm every school night & every weekend night at 9:00pm. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30am. If you would not make a call to someone’s land line, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.

5. It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill. *Half days, field trips and after school activities will require special consideration.

6. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs. Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money. It will happen, you should be prepared.

7. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being. Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others. Be a good friend first or stay the hell out of the crossfire.

8. Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

9. Do not text, email, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room. Censor yourself.

10. No porn. Search the web for information you would openly share with me. If you have a question about anything, ask a person – preferably me or your father.

11. Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

12. Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts. Don’t laugh. Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence. It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life. It is always a bad idea. Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.

13. Don’t take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

14. Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.

15. Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.

16. Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

17. Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.

18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You & I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.

Do you think Hoffman is a helicopter mom with wishful thinking or a proactive idealist? Which rules would you pluck for your own contract, or would you approach your kid-going-mobile using a different tactic?

Stacey Ross is the founder of San Diego Bargain an online community that promotes local value as well as time and money-savings tips for families. She also provides services through SR Media Consulting, which helps business owners get the buzz out about their brand by offering results-based programs and online and offline strategic marketing campaigns.


  1. Suzette Valle says:

    I thought I add my two cents about contracts here. I never used a contract with my kids, now 17 and 21.
    I AM the contract and it is still in effect, lol! We have rules, and the consequences of breaking them, overuse or inappropriate use (I am quite the sluth!), are swift and severe. Our kids get only one strike, I’m affraid.

  2. My kids are 19 and 22, and when they first got their phones I didn’t have to worry about them taking photos, because their phones couldn’t! That would have been an interesting conversation. Not using the phone while driving should be added to this list.

    • Suzette Valle says:

      Carpool Goddess,
      Yes! I can’t believe that not using the phone while driving, unless it’s on blue tooth, is not on this list!

  3. Rachel Greenblatt says:

    I think the contract has an underlying purpose which solidifies the mutual respect between parent and child. We recently got our 13 year old a smartphone and instead of the contract we made a deal with him: he would get his phone if he keeps the new solution we are using called FamZee active on his phone. The solution tracks his locations, the usage (data, voice and SMS) levels and allows them to send out emergency alerts to us if he was to feel in danger. He agreed and so far, our bills have in check and we discuss regularly what he is doing or discovered on his phone.

    • Suzette Valle says:

      Rachel, I agree that a contract is a solid committment between two people, in this case between parents and a child. However, I didn’t use contracts with my teenagers because I did not want to take myself out of the education equation. Admittedly, not having a contract to fall back on when a violation of any rules occured meant I had to work harder at the lectures and consequences. In short, my kids had to face my husband and me if there was a situation reagarding cell phone misuse — believe me when I tell you that there were plenty of situtaions we had to call out our kids on their infractions!!

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