Every parent has to decide when their kids should get a phone. For us, it was high school (much to our kids’ dismay). But during the ages of 10-14, we started running into a problem: friends, schools, events, and coaches assumed our kids would have a phone! Instead of changing what we were convinced was best for our children, we came up with a helpful solution for the awkward couple of years in between.
If you’re holding off getting your kids a phone but the world isn’t with you, then the solution we call “The Family Phone” could work for you! It’s helped us navigate those in-between years with respect for our kids and sanity for us while maintaining a boundary we were convinced was right for them.
The “Family Phone” is our answer to the incredible pressure all parents feel about giving kids a personal device at a young age. Many parents get phones earlier than they want to because they don’t have a great way around the fact that starting in (roughly) 6th grade, a lot of communication and systems with friends, activities, events, and schools is set up around the assumption of the child having a personal cell phone with internet and social media.
For instance, if I drop something off for my kid at school, the official policy is “Text your child and tell them it’s in the office.” I have to ask them to go old-school and send a note to their classroom teacher. Yes, I get a lot of sighs. But I’m willing to stay strong for the sake of what we think is best for our kids.
Wherever you draw your line, I know there are many factors that have gone into your thinking. We all love our kids, and YOU are their parent! I hope you make that decision intentionally and thoughtfully and informed by data available on the early impact of phones. One thing I know is that wherever you draw the line, your kid will want it sooner! The Family Phone idea helps bridge that gap.
Here’s how the Family Phone works:
The Family Phone is an additional household phone owned by the parent(s)/adult of a home but available for use by any and all members of the home at any time. It is owned by the adult(s) who pay the bill and operates at the sole discretion of the adult(s). It is not a private device: no one can ever say it’s “mine.”
Here are some key ways it functions for us:
- It roams as needed with any member of the family or stays put at home. Taking the Family Phone out of the house must be approved every single time: no one just walks out with it in their pocket.
- The phone number may be given out to the kids’ friends or coaches, etc., for communication purposes.
- The phone password is known by all and never changed. No additional passwords or private accounts may be established on anything. The camera and other apps may be opened or used by all members of the family.
- All communication on the phone is done with the understanding that it can and will be read by any or all members of the family.
Here’s why we love The Family Phone concept:
It establishes a sense of parental authority over technology in our home.
We believe parents should be operating in full authority over kids’ technology and devices because—as plenty of studies show—they have a huge impact on our kids’ health and well-being. Yes, I want them to eventually be able to manage the phone wisely without me (like almost everything else we do as parents!), but it’ll happen gradually with good boundaries and coaching.
I want to do, as Proverbs 22:6 says, “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
When I let go of it someday, I want to have trained them well. We also believe that it models for our kids how they should interact with God about all their stuff: God owns everything, and whatever we have is given to us for our use and enjoyment with wisdom and good stewardship.
The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it. -\ Psalm 24:1.
We want our kids to think the same about their devices. Having a phone is not an inalienable right in our household. The Family Phone concept starts this off right—establishing our authority over technology in our home and acknowledging that kids need to grow in wisdom about how to use it.
It has built-in accountability and no assumption of privacy.
The Bible makes it clear that we are all prone to sin and sometimes make bad decisions (and not just at 13!) We believe a strong sense of accountability is important, and the lack of privacy on the Family Phone is a great starting point for that.
We let our kids decide if they want to explain the communal situation surrounding the phone to their friends. They must decide if giving the number out is a wise idea. You’d be amazed how many kids they decide not to give the number to because their little sister could be holding the phone when the text arrives! If someone can’t text with words appropriate for my 9-year-old, then I don’t want them texting any of my kids: score one for the family phone!
We cannot bury our heads in the sand about the prevalence of terrible stuff they can be exposed to on a device. I’m talking way beyond cuss words on a few texts: online bullying, grooming, pornography—just to name a few. “Good kids” get into stuff like this all the time. A lack of privacy is a good way to give them pause about who they’re talking to, what they’re looking at, etc. We ALL need a sense of accountability with our devices because, as Romans 14:12 says,” each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
It allows for social connection.
I want my kids to have access to social connections with their friends—for plans, rides, fun exchanges. I certainly remember more than a few (thousand) hours spent talking about absolutely nothing on 3-way calling with my own friends at 11-14 years old. I was very jealous of my bestie, who had her “own line” so she could talk as long as she wanted! I understand kids want to connect with each other and that it happens over phones.
The Family Phone allows for fun social connection. Nearly all of the exchanges on the phone are sweet, fun, and age-appropriate. I don’t want my kids to miss the connection, even if it’s just about wearing the same colored leggings the next day or playing 2K at a certain time together.
Other moms I know have allowed their kids’ friends to text their phones to reach their poor phoneless children, but that’s a hard pass for me. I absolutely cannot handle answering kids’ texts on behalf of my kids. I refuse to be the middleman. Score another one for the Family Phone!
It allows for communication during separation (if necessary). I say “if necessary” because we actually think our kids NOT having a phone every time we’re apart is a good thing. It fosters a sense of confidence and independence. It forces them to ask for help. It makes them talk more to the adults around them. I could go on and on.
However, around 11-14 years old is also the window where many kids start to spend periods of time alone in the house while parents run errands, work, or socialize. Like many of you, we don’t have a landline/home phone anymore, so the family phone is a proxy for this when we’re out of the house with our phones. I want my kid to be able to call 9-1-1 while I’m out on a run.
The Family Phone also allows for me to make the occasional decision that my child needs to take a phone with them while they’re away from the house. It gives me the flexibility to decide based on the circumstances. We don’t send it to all ‘away’ school events or athletic games. We also don’t send it to friend’s houses. But there are some occasions I want them to have a way to reach them. The Family Phone means it’s possible if I want it, but not a given.
It requires negotiation and sharing among siblings.
Yes, sometimes this is a big headache! I know it’s “easier” to just give everyone an individual device and forget about the sharing. But we have found that one shared family phone (and one shared iPad) DOES work! They have to brainstorm, plan, and create their own systems and ways of sharing them. This is a great thing to teach all kinds of practical interpersonal and communication skills.
Yes, they squabble over it sometimes, but it’s been a much bigger win than lose. I’ve watched them decide to do something together “while they wait” and then forget all about it! I’ve watched them compromise on the music they’ll both listen to, and each takes one ear of wireless headphones. I’ve watched them agree to include their sibling in a FaceTime they make to a grandparent. It makes them include others in their technology interactions and forces them out of the mentality that their needs always prevail. Overall, another win for the character we’re trying to teach them from Philippians 2:4; “Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.”
The Family Phone is one of those rare parenting solutions we stumbled into that’s worked in the years between the ages of 10-14. It was too helpful to keep to myself. We’re all in this parenting thing together, and none of us knows exactly what we are doing when it comes to technology and devices! I hope our little experiment proves helpful in your home, too.