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Cell Phones – Top 5 Tips for Success

The new school year is a time when many parents consider their child’s communication needs and make the decision to get them a cell phone.

And for most parents, that decision involves some fear and trepidation—and rightly so.

Now, I love technology and I’m more attached to my phone than I sometimes would like to admit.

BUT, I have long been a proponent of not giving kids technology before they’re ready for it, and years ago signed on to the “Wait Until 8th” pledge, at least in terms of a smart phone (my daughter got a Gabb Wireless phone in 6th grade and it was a great stepping stone for her).

Despite that pledge, I’m pretty sure I had my daughter convinced she was never getting a phone.

So imagine the shock and excitement on my kiddo’s face last month when we gifted her the use of a new cell phone when she officially entered her teen years.

Pure joy lived in our house that night.

And rightly so!  Phones, after all, can be fun!

For her part, she is loving getting access to some things she hasn’t had before, and frankly, now that she’s finishing up middle school and building a social life of her own, it’s nice to be able to keep tabs on her a way that I couldn’t before.

But this phone did not come without some controls and conditions.  Here are my Top Five Tips for how to handle that first phone (and beyond) for a tween or teen:

  1. Require a contract.

We had our daughter sign a contract and went over it step-by-step with her.  We took the Savvy Parents Safe Kids contract and modified it slightly to fit her situation and reminded her of our expectations of her phone usage, as well as the consequences for violating our trust. Most importantly, we reminded her that the phone is ours and on loan to her—and that gives us the right to manage and monitor the phone.


  1. Install parental controls.

Before we even gave her the phone, we unpackaged it and set up parental controls. A lot of parents think this is difficult to do.  It is not.  We are an iPhone family and Apple actually makes it super easy to walk through step-by-step and place limits on content, websites, downloading apps, screen time, and more.  I am now able to manage things from my phone to improve the chances she won’t inadvertently stumble on pornography or other graphic adult content.


  1. Install monitoring.

In addition to parental controls, for younger/new cell phone users it’s important to monitor the content of their communications.  For this purpose I love Bark[1] because it allows me to do this without violating my daughter’s privacy.  It alerts me if there are concerning communications (use of words related to self-harm, bullying, violence, sex, etc.) and leaves the innocuous chitchat to my teen.

facebook app

  1. Consider prohibiting or limiting social media—for a while.

There are a lot of compelling studies linking rates of anxiety and depression to social media usage.  The reasons for this are many, but if you have a kid (like many) who struggle with anxiety, focus issues, feeling left out, body image, etc. letting them adjust to the distraction of a phone without adding social media into the mix may be wise.  It is also a surefire way to keep kids at least a bit safer.  I’m not saying no social media ever, I’m just saying maybe not right now—once your kiddo demonstrates they can handle the responsibility and distraction a phone requires AND is at least 13 years old (as required by law), then you can decide with them whether you want to go down the social media rabbit hole.


  1. Talk!

At a time when so many things are changing for our kids, cell phones add just one more level of complexity to the long list of things they manage.  To help them do this, and enter the digital world responsibly and safely, we need to have lots of conversations with them.  We need to talk about safety, predators, the public nature of everything,  A strategy session with me can help you identify exactly what to make sure you’re covering in these conversations, and I also like Behind Their Screens: What Teens Are Facing by Emily Weinstein and Carrie James and Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide for Calm Conversations by Dr. Delaney Ruston for parents, and First Phone by Catherine Pearlman for kids and teens.

[1] For a 1-week trial and 20% off for life, go to and use code BNDN7PF at checkout.

Bark is phenomenal monitoring software that parents can use to connect to 30+ platforms to monitor text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content.

To get a one-week trial and 20% off for life, use code BNDN7PF. 

Gabb allows parents to provide kids with a phone they can feel good about.  Many parents feel pressured into a smartphone purchase for safety reasons or because their kids want to be able to talk to their friends.

Get more information and receive an automatic discount on your child’s Gabb phone!

This phenomenal program designed for middle and high school students contains over 40 lessons designed to help students from ALL backgrounds become college and career-ready.

Use code SAVE100 to get $100 off lifetime access!

Christy Keating fun headshot

Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.