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Responsible mobile phone use for children and teenagers

9-15 years

If your child develops responsible mobile phone habits early on, it can help ensure that her phone is a positive part of her life.

About responsible mobile phone use

If you’re thinking about a mobile phone for your child, or your child already has a phone, it’s important to think about how you’ll help your child learn to use the phone responsibly.

Responsible mobile phone use is about:

  • sticking to family rules about phone use
  • managing costs by keeping track of call, text and data usage
  • keeping the phone charged and safe and not losing it
  • being safe and respectful in calls, texts and social media posts.

Role-modelling responsible mobile phone use

You can encourage your child to use his mobile phone responsibly by modelling healthy and responsible phone use yourself.

To start with, you could think about your own media use. For example, if you’re continually checking your emails or social media feed, it’s likely your child will see this as acceptable phone use. On other hand, if you have a rule about not using phones during family mealtimes, you can reinforce this rule by following it yourself.

It’s a good idea to talk with your child about having phone-free time every day. Some families also like to have phone-free days for the whole family, while others try to take a no-internet holiday every now and then – for example, on a camping trip.

Rules for mobile phone use

It’s a good idea to discuss and agree on mobile phone rules with your child. These might be rules about what she can use her phone for, where and when she can use it, and how much she can spend on usage.

Here are some examples of mobile phone rules for your child:

  • What: your child must answer calls and texts from you and his other parent. Your child can also use his phone to contact friends and listen to music. Your child can’t use the phone to shop online or watch movies.
  • Where: your child can use her phone in the family areas of the house, but not in her bedroom.
  • When: your child can use his phone during the day and early evening, but not between 9 pm and 7 am.
  • How much: your child can use the plan’s monthly allowance, but there won’t be any extra payments if she runs out of minutes or data.

Here are some examples of mobile phone rules for the whole family:

  • Mobile phones are either switched off or not used during family meals.
  • Mobile phones stay out of bedrooms after lights out.
  • Mobile phones are put down when you’re talking with each other.

You might find it helpful to create an agreement that both you and your child sign. You could make this part of a family media plan covering all types of devices and media use. If you choose to have a formal agreement, it’s a good idea to revise it together regularly to make sure it still meets your needs and your child’s needs.

You might also want to talk about and agree on consequences if your family’s mobile phone rules are broken – by your child, or by you.

You can guide your child towards positive mobile phone use. For example, you could encourage your child to take a photo of one nice thing that happens each day to share with you that evening, or use his phone to edit photos, or learn a language.

Managing mobile phone costs

Your child needs to keep track of her call, text and data usage, so she doesn’t run up big bills and can still make calls at the end of the month.

When your child first gets a mobile phone, you’ll probably need to help him learn how to manage costs. For example, you can:

  • show your child how to check how much of his call, text and data allowance he has used
  • help your child switch off unnecessary settings that use up data, like automatic downloads for data, background app refresh, and wi-fi assist
  • explain that he should download some kinds of data – like music and videos – only on wi-fi, or he might go over his data limit.

Keeping the mobile phone safe and charged

Responsible mobile phone use involves keeping the phone safe, charged and undamaged.

You’ll need to talk with your child about how she can keep her mobile phone safe – for example, your child might need a cover for her phone.

It’s also a good idea to agree with your child on how you’ll deal with replacing a lost or damaged mobile phone. For example, will you or your child pay for a new handset?

If your child is younger – or just a bit forgetful – you might need to remind him that it’s his responsibility to keep the mobile phone charged.

Most schools have rules about mobile phones at school. Many schools require phones to be handed in or switched off so they can’t be used during class or in the playground. It’s important for your child to stick to her school’s rules about mobile phone use.

Safe and respectful mobile phone use

If your child uses his mobile phone to communicate independently with others or access the internet, it increases the risk that he’ll come across content that bothers him. It also exposes your child to risks like cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, and contact with strangers.

You can help protect your child from risky or inappropriate content and activities by teaching her about internet safety.

You can also talk to your child about:

  • managing safety and privacy settings on his phone – for example, checking that social media profiles are private and locking the phone with a pin
  • not entering personal details like name, address or date of birth into online accounts or forms
  • accepting new social media friend requests only from people he knows face to face
  • checking which apps use location services and switching off the ones he doesn’t need. This can ensure that your child isn’t showing his location to nearby people that he doesn’t know.
Your child needs to learn about using her mobile phone to communicate in a respectful way too. This involves not creating or forwarding nasty or humiliating emails, photos or text messages. Using her phone respectfully is an important part of being a responsible digital citizen.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-07-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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