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At some point, most teens will have a smartphone and will prefer that it’s attached to them at all times.

My 12-year-old son literally went from his phone never being charged to him wanting it attached to his body at all times. The good news is that I now know that when he wants something badly enough, he is responsible enough to remember what he needs to do to have it (charge it for example). But the not so good news is that it became clear that we have to set some ground rules. I am a technology lover, so I wasn’t excited about being really strict, but it was clear that being permissive didn’t feel right either.

Whenever we make rules with tweens and teens they had better make sense and be explainable to them. I like to have a “why” behind all of my rules.

My primary “why” for setting some rules around devices are as follows:

  • I know they aren’t quite ready (for years perhaps) to muster the will-power to stop using their phones – the dopamine hit from likes and notifications and texts is too powerful and I want them to learn to have good digital hygiene (and a great night’s sleep). This means we need to model it as well. 😉
  • I want them to know how to connect with us and others in person. This means that they need to be off their devices for periods of time so they can get into that space to talk and connect. I am guessing the earlier we start with this one, the better.
  • I think that kids need balance in their lives – phones and social media are fun and engaging for them…I don’t want to deny this for them, but for as long as I can have an influence, I want them to do everything in moderation.
  • The social aspects of technology can be stressful for teens. I want them to have a break from the social pressure and the constant physiological response from social media. (But I am sensitive to the stress and pressure that they feel when they are off-line as well – the FOMO stress which, for teens, can feel like life or death).
  • And quite simply – I want to be with them, to know them, and to connect with them.


Cheerful young woman using mobile phone while drinking cacao at home

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

I did a little research amongst my friends with kids who are 12-15 and the list of rules that people have in place are pretty similar. I would encourage you to consider your “why” and your values as you read this list and pick things that resonate with you. Adjust them for your family.

Here is the list of possible rules:

  1. No device while doing your homework unless you need to call a friend (I am less strict on this, I let them use the phone to look things up on the Internet if they want to, but no games or texting, etc.)
  2. After homework, using your phone is okay, but we encourage going outside, doing something creative, hanging out with friends, take dog for a walk, etc.
  3. No phones allowed at the table during the meals (for all family members, right?)
  4. Short car rides – no phone except if it’s to send a text related to where we are going – we are late, need directions, etc.
  5. Okay for long car rides but still try to limit it (in our family, we allow them to use their devices for long rides with no restrictions – 2 reasons – they love it and they love the “treat” of us not kicking them off (they actually get sick of it which is good too) AND my husband and I love that uninterrupted time to talk because our marriage is important too!)
  6. Leave it at home or keep it in purse/pocket while out on a family walk/hike. Use it to take pictures if you have it! (Sometimes maybe no phones at all so they can learn to be truly present)
  7. Leave it at home for sports practices and games unless needed for coordination of rides, etc.
  8. No playing on phone while watching tv… pick one thing to do (I am mixed on this – depends on my mood – not a strict rule)
  9. At bedtime, all devices stay away from bedrooms – either downstairs, in kitchen, etc. (we have moved our phones out of our bedroom to model this)
  10. Always put it away and make eye contact when you are speaking to someone
  11. Even for free apps, get permission before downloading – the kids don’t know what some of these apps are and some might more risky than expected (check out to check on them, or look at the reviews for the actual app)


Women s black monokini

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

Tweens and teens have a relationship with their devices and social media that most adults cannot fully understand. All I ask is that you try. Sit with them and be curious about how they use their phone. Perhaps ask them to teach you something.

Some people, like our family, have the added complexity of the Xbox. My kids (both boys) would always take Xbox over their phones so we are working on how to manage that as well. Stay tuned for some thoughts on video games and the Internet.

I’m guessing that as the kids get older, the rules might change. But for now, with kids in middle school, it seems most parents are putting in place some family rules like these.

What are YOUR family’s rules? Comment below if we have missed anything or you have any thoughts!

Do you look at your kids’ Instagram accounts and texts? Do you have parental controls on the phone? What has worked best for you based on your family values?

Do YOU try to live by your rules for yourself too?


Read more about Parenting here.

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