When I was growing up, my generation negotiated with our parents about the keys to the car, curfew, a telephone in our bedrooms and dating rules. Today’s parents have to add technology. Although they may appear to be standard fare, mobile phones are not an inalienable teen right. They are a communication tool that can make family contact easier but not without risks. Weigh the pros and cons of a phone before purchasing one for your child. Then establish clear boundaries up front.

Mobile phones allow opportunities for teens to have private conversations with anyone at any time, without accountability or adult oversight. Because of this, conversations and text messaging can easily become inappropriate. In addition to conversation concerns, most phones are equipped with features, such as a camera, where teens can store digital pictures. Inappropriate pictures of classmates, captured in a school locker room and sent to other friends, is not an innocent prank. They may be considered pornographic. Most teens do not realise that sending and receiving pornographic pictures is a crime. Depending on the age of the subject and the offender, charges related to phone photos can range from inappropriate to criminal.

Having a mobile phone is a privilege that must be earned through maturity and responsibility, especially for young teens. Consider alternatives to buying a phone for individual use. For example, your daughter could borrow your phone for emergencies or to contact you when she is away from home. Like a family car, you could also have a family phone that is available to all family members. This eliminates extra costs and provides accountability. If you allow your teen to have a mobile phone, consider the following boundaries:

Limitations of equipment and plans

If you have concerns about your teen’s ability to make wise choices with camera, video and Internet options, find a phone without those features. And even if the phone is equipped to contact someone halfway around the world, you can choose a plan that excludes international calls.

The power of the dollar

Perhaps the easiest way to set boundaries with phones is through money. A mobile phones generally cost between $100 and $2000, and most plans that include a decent number of data and text messages can range from $30 to $100 per month. You may opt for a family phone plan in which you have one bill but your teen pays for his portion. Or if you allow your teen to have an individual plan, remember that consequences teach lessons. I’ve heard stories about teens who went over their phone limits and discovered on their first bill that they owed the phone company several hundred dollars. By requiring a teen to pay for a phone and his use of it, you encourage maturity and create accountability.

Manners of technology

As I write this article, I’m sitting in a restaurant where I see at least three adults wearing wireless headsets while having lunch with another person. Adults and teens alike need to relearn their manners and use them when technology is concerned. Set and enforce family phone rules that reflect consideration, moderation and manners. A few reasonable rules may include: No technology at the dinner table; no texting or answering a phone while in the middle of a conversation; and no phones when visitors are at the house.


One of the dangers of phones is the lack of accountability. Consider having a rule that all phones need to be turned off and turned in to Mum at the end of the day and that no phone may be used while driving. Also, establish the understanding that phone bills are not private property. As a parent, you have the right (and responsibility) to know with whom your teen is interacting. Emphasise accountability — not control.

Perhaps you have a knot in your stomach because your teen has had a mobile phone without restrictions. Don’t panic! Evaluate your teen’s age, maturity level and the amount of responsibility he has displayed with the phone. Based on these variables, you may choose not to change anything. But if you believe boundaries are necessary, don’t be afraid to enforce them.

You are not simply setting boundaries for phones; you are teaching lifelong principles of consideration for others and of consequences, self-control, financial stewardship and accountability. Now that sounds like a good use of minutes !

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at focusonthefamily.com.

Dr. Julianna Slattery

Dr. Juli Slattery is a clinical psychologist, author and the co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, a ministry dedicated to reclaiming God’s design for sexuality. In addition to speaking, she hosts the weekly podcast Java with Juli. In 2020, Juli launched Sexual Discipleship®, an online platform to equip Christian leaders for gospel-centred conversations about sexual issues. Juli served at Focus on the Family from 2008 to 2012 as a writer, teacher and co-host of the Focus on the Family Broadcast.

She’s the author of 12 books, including God, Sex, & Your Marriage; Rethinking Sexuality; and Sex & the Single Girl. She and her husband live in Akron, Ohio, and have three grown sons.

Tell your friends