The Only Back-to-School Cell Phone Rules Your Kids Really Need

Simple, easy-to-follow rules for every phone-carrying kid. By Caroline Knorr
The Only Back-to-School Cell Phone Rules Your Kids Really Need

Whether your kid is heading to school toting a brand-new device or is already a cell-phone pro, you want everyone on the same page about the dos and don'ts. (Get more information on cell-phone parenting.) You can keep an eye on kids at home (kind of), but at school, they're on their own. As with any kind of boundary setting, these conversations can be tense. Fortunately, there are only five rules for them to remember -- and one for you, to show that you're all in this together. (Tweens and teens can also play our animated, interactive Digital Compass game to pick up digital-citizen skills.)

Here are our key guidelines for cell-phone carrying kids:

1. Respect the school's rules. Some schools permit students to use their phones at certain times: between classes, at lunch, on the playground, even occasionally in class. Abusing this privilege -- like, by texting during a test or playing Pokemon GO in math class -- could get your phone taken away and possibly jeopardize your classmates' freedom. Only use your phone when you're allowed to on school grounds.

2. Pick up when it's parents calling. Ugh, why can't they just text like everyone else? Sometimes mom, dad, or your caregiver need to talk to you. It's probably very important, so don't send it to voicemail.

3. Ask permission before downloading anything. Even if you have your own app store account, get sign off on any apps you download. If something has in-app purchases, those costs could wind up on your parents' bill -- so they need to know what extra charges a download may incur. They also need to make sure it's age appropriate and reasonably good for you.

4. Don't flaunt it. Owning a cell phone is a privilege that not every kid has access to. It's OK to be proud of your phone -- it's an expensive piece of equipment for which you've been given responsibility -- but showing off could make other people feel bad. Also, it could get stolen.

5. Use your phone for good, not evil. You'll see all kinds of misbehavior and mischief regarding phones in school. Set an example for others by being respectful and responsible with yours. Ask permission before taking someone's picture. Take a moment to consider whether a text or video could hurt, annoy, or embarrass someone else. Turn off the phone when you're supposed to. Don't let the phone be more important than someone standing right in front of you.

And here's our essential rule for parents:

Don't text your kid during the school day. Unless it's a real emergency -- like, you're going to the hospital -- resist the urge to text your kid during the school day. Kids have survived for many, many years without talking to their parents while they're at school -- and they need to be allowed independence. And if your kid texts you, make sure he's not breaking any rules to do so.

About Caroline Knorr

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As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (3)

Kid, 12 years old

For Number #2: Kids that suffer from things like anxiety and autism may have a hard time picking up the phone and actually having phone calls with people.
Parent of a 3 and 13 year old written by Winterwalker

Actually, rule #2 is wrong - and is part of the problem. It's best for everyone in the classroom if the kids don't refer to their phone for texts or calls during class hours. It's a distraction, even if the calls/texts *aren't* coming from the parents - the kid (and those around them) are distracted when the check to see what's coming in. All schools are equipped with reception people who can deliver messages when necessary - they know what class your kid is in, their schedule, etc... they can definitely get a message to your kid in an emergency. I would suggest that a better re-wording of #2 is for the kid to check for texts from Mom/Dad at recess, lunch, and immediately after class. That way reminders will still get through ("i.e. remember to bring your permission forms home!") without disturbing the classroom. This also gives parents the comfort that they can text reminders to their kid, *without* interrupting the classroom.