I've worked with a lot of teenagers-and I seriously love them. They are in this perfect stage where they are flexible enough to make big changes in their lives while at the same time they are self-determined enough to stick with those changes regardless of what their family thinks.
But with the hundreds of teenagers and their parents that I have worked with, I have yet to meet one teenager who doesn't need help managing their phone and other media. I've worked with teens who have gotten in trouble for bullying and those who were victims of bullying, I've seen girls become victims of predators through apps they are using and boys and girls get academic, social and legal problems for sexting. I've seen tech addictions, poor sleeping habits, social anxiety, social withdrawal, and even life-threatening situations come from phone use.
I've worked with teens whose friends are suicidal and are endlessly contacting them for support, which is good for the friend and exhausting for the teen. And I've seen lots and lots of family drama between teens, siblings and parents over smart phones.
So what do I recommend to parents as far as phones go:
1. Phone boundaries, like any boundaries need to be built on a foundation of love, a good relationship, consistent parenting, good communication, and rules that are logical and put the best interest of the family first. Force, control and power struggles will not achieve the results you want in the long run. Even if your child isn't reciprocating these principles, as a parent it's your responsibility to model them.
2. Always set rules before they get a phone!
3. If you must get your pre-teen a phone, don't get them a smart phone. Flip phones are great! Pre-teen's brains are just not developed enough to manage all the various aspects of a SmartPhone(neither are most teen's or adult's brains for that matter). Look out for the iPod trap too, a fancy iPod or similar table is basically a smart phone whenever it's near Wi-Fi, you can text, call, video chat, social media, basically everything an iPhone can do minus actually being able to call your parents for a ride when the football game ends.
4. When you do get your child a phone discuss trust and trustworthiness in a positive way, tell them that you believe that as you two work together they will show trustworthiness with the phone and you will begin to trust them with the phone in small doses. The goal is to raise a child who can manage themselves.
5. Start with high controls and as they show trustworthiness they get more freedoms extended. For example you might start by saying- you can have this phone for 2 hours in the evenings, but other then you need to turn it in. Or, you can only use this phone in my physical presence. And as they show good actions they get more trust and privileges extended. Use the phone's parental controls- I know that iPhones and the Amazon Kindle have good parental controls, I'm not sure about other phones, but get familiar with them.
6. Initially a rule: I can ask to look at your phone at any time, and you should be willing to show me immediately. Yes this is an invasion of privacy, however they shouldn't have anything so private on their phones that they will die of embarrassment if their parents see it. You don't need to read every one of their messages, but just skim through who they are in contact with, ask them about their friends, praise them for the good things they do. Make sure to make this a positive experience for them by catching them doing good. Eventually the trust will build and you won't need to do this anymore.
7. No phones in the bedroom after bedtime (Sleep loss, drama, sexting, blue wave lights, etc. All bad for a teens brain.)
8. Stay up to date on the nasty apps out there- no teen should be using Kik, Tinder, other dating sites. SnapChat erases messages after they are sent so can be used for sneaky purposes, check out this website for updates: http://foreverymom.com/mom-gold/parents-kids-10-dangerous-apps-time-hit-delete/
9. Unfortunately even Facebook or any messaging type app can be used for bad things, so follow your child closely on Social Media. Ask them if they post things that exclude you (FaceBook has different settings for posts and you can chose to post one thing for your "friends" and another for your "family) you might want to periodically look at their Facebook page while logged in as them to see all of their activity.
10. Only take the phone away for phone-related issues. It's so tempting as parents to use the one thing the teenager cares about the most as the leverage in the relationship, I've seen parents who the only consequence they have, for any and all types of misbehaviors, is to take away the phone. Remember, loving and logical consequences. If the bad behavior has to do with friends, restrict friend activities, if it has to do with chores, the consequence should promote doing chores, if it has to do with school then the consequence should relate to helping them do better in school. If you simply resort to control and force then you're undermining your real source of influence-your relationship with them.