Setting Appropriate Cell Phone Boundaries

What makes cell phones so challenging is that they are no longer just cell phones. Most are cameras, gaming systems, and internet terminals all in one hard-to-keep-track-of package. Being able to talk with friends via cell phone has always been popular with kids, but access to e-mail, Web pages, online games, and more has become increasingly common. For this reason, it’s important to set boundaries for cell phone use. If you don’t, your child will be tempted to use his cell phone all the time—and in ways you may not like.

  • Choose a cell phone plan for your child with reasonable limits. If you don’t want your child to have internet access on his or her cell phone, don’t buy a phone that is internet-enabled. (They cost more anyway.)
  • Find out what types of parental controls are available on your child’s cell phone. Common parental controls include filtering explicit content. Another parental control blocks the purchases of ringtones, graphics, and online games. One of the leaders in parental controls for cell phones is AT&T. Visit AT&T for more information
  • Keep cell phone use in check. Try creating cell-phone-free zones, such as by having a basket where family members deposit their cell phones while you eat dinner. If you subscribe to a data plan or have a phone that can access the internet, TV, or video, set limits on screen time—just like you would with your family television. Then monitor what your child is watching. Read more about mobile apps
  • Set a good example. Parents can be just as absorbed in their cell phones and Blackberries as kids can. Model balanced, respectful cell phone use.
  • Talk about cell phone bullying. Ask your kids to let you know if they get harassing text messages or phone calls. Make it clear that you will not tolerate any type of bullying. Read more about bullying and cyberbullying
  • Make sure kids understand that they are not to use a cell phone while driving a car—this includes both talking and texting. See tips about this subject from the American Psychological Association
  • Talk to your kids about “sexting” (sending sexually-suggestive photos or comments through text messages). Make sure they understand that sexually inappropriate language and pictures are not allowed. Read more about legal issues and sexting
  • Tell your kids not to share their cell phone number online, especially to people they don’t know, even if they’ve been talking with them for a while in a chat room or through instant messaging. Encourage them not to put cell phone numbers (or any phone numbers) on their Facebook page. Read more about online safety
  • Make sure you set meaningful consequences for violations of your family’s cell phone rules, and consistently follow through with those consequences. Don’t be afraid to take away your child’s cell phone if she doesn’t follow the rules. Yes, it costs money to have a cell phone sitting there without being used, but your child won’t learn how to use it appropriately if you let her set all the rules.

The rate of technology advance in cell phones can be staggering—and keeping up with how your kids use them can be just as difficult. But by using the parental controls available to you, setting expectations, enforcing boundaries with discipline, and talking regularly with your kids about proper cell phone use, you can help them learn to navigate the world of cellular technology responsibly and safely.



I have an app on my daughter’s android smartphone called Parental Time Control. I select the times of day and days of week her phone is available for use. And there are NO monthly fees. Here is the direct link:
It helps me to be a better parent!
Wendy W.



how do i take the timer lock off my sons phone its set to turn off at 11:00 and i dont know how to keep it on?


I agree that boundaries need to be set when it comes to kids and their cellular devices, but some of these restriction seem a bit over-board. I read a different article on this site saying if you have a child between the ages of 10-15 that has a cell phone you should regularly take the phone and check all of the text messages and phone calls your child has made. I find this to be an invasion of privacy. At fifteen you are a sophomore in high school, and there is a good chance you have been involved in some sorts of an early romantic relationship, so reading the text messages of a fifteen year old might make them feel very uncomfortable. As long as your child knows boundaries, and you have trust that you have taught them what is right, these guidelines to monitoring your child’s phone seem quite bizarre.

To the poster that felt that these boundaries seem quite bizarre I just want to say it sounds like you either don’t have teenagers or that perhaps you choose to not monitor other aspects of their lives either. I am the mother of a 18 and a 15 year old. My husband and I held off much longer then many parents but like most we eventually caved in and purchased our children phones. Our daughter received an iphone for a HS graduation gift as we thought it would help her in navigating the world of public transit as she still does not drive. By September she had a full on addition to sexting and had over 100 “friends” she was constantly in contact with. Being that she was technically an adult it was very difficult to get help as she didn’t see a problem with any of it. Our only recourse was to remove the phone altogether and she was left to travel to and from college on buses with no phone. I had to go and wait at the station for some times hours till she arrived and believe me when I say, I wish I could have just given the phone back but we didn’t know about these parental controls and I knew she was not strong enough to resist the text that always seem to start out with “hey there….are you alone?”. We even went in to AT&T and asked them and they didn’t have any advice to offer either so the fact that the post above says they re one of the best is really very disappointing.

A counselor that we spoke to suggested that we get her a pay as you go phone with NO CAMERA you would not believe how hard they are to find. The idea was that if she wanted to text so badly that she should have to find a way to pay for it herself and that by getting a job she would have less time to text so a win. win. She is still constantly on it but at least we know that the photo’s have stopped but because it is her own phone we have lost all parental control too.

My 15 yr old got a nice simple phone for Christmas as we felt that perhaps we waited too long to give one to our daughter and that he would be better off starting younger so we could set better ground rules. he started out with full access and rarely used it till about 2 month ago and then went from about 200 text messages a month to mostly his sister… to over 4,000. grades tanked moodiness set in and he became very private and withdrawn yes you guessed it a girl game into his world and the only thing that now mattered was a beep from that dam phone from her. The phone is now only aloud after school till 9:00 pm and must be left with us at night. He feels violated and without any control over his friendships and we are really unsure how else we could handle it but let me tell you, the quickness that this “drug” took both my kids is really scary. I talk to other parents who don’t see any real problem with letting their kids spend every waking moment on these things attached like it’s some oxygen tank they can’t do with out.

I am very interested to hear from other parents that have had similar experience and to know how we can set reasonable boundaries for them as well as us that work

I am terrified about the day when my kids get their license and start to drive without me in the car. We need stronger controls to protect them until hopefully one day they will be able to go to a job or drive a car without the need to read and respond back instantly to their friends.

I agree. Phone goes off at all hours. Fortunately it’s in our room or she’d be up all hours (which she’s done when we have left it out). I waited until I thought she was responsible enough which was later than most and we gave stern warnings. She harasses us when we take it away. Drug is the word. Right now it is locked up as she was ranting over having to hand it in over at 11pm (our wknd. curfew). 9pm is our weekday curfew. I am surprised more people don’t have problems (I’m guessing they don’t know or want to know). It really is an issue with us. I told her the more she pressures/harasses us about it, the more I will take it from here as I am not about to succumb to the control pressures of my 15 year old. Damn, get a life. At least she’s working, plays soccer and is a good student. I am adamant that we don’t overuse our phones or take the into our rooms at night, too. Not sure about any more creative options, but would love to hear of them. I also warn kids if they sleep over that phones and social media go away after midnight. She hates that. Otherwise we have potential sneak outs (which we have had) to worry about as well as not sleeping. We have no phone rules: dinner time, and when friends are visiting they have to stay away form the visiting areas. That came as a result of Christmas visit stress. Ugh. I feel your pain.