7 Tips for Establishing a Phone as a Tool Rather Than Entertainment

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Words by
Jana Dalby

Published on


Your first phone is always fun and exciting. When you got yours, how many hours did you spend exploring all of its features and settings, and exchanging ringtones with friends? Probably quite a few.

If anything, today’s teens are more excited than ever to get their first kids phone. Kids are begging their parents for cell phones at younger and younger ages, leaving families with tough choices to make.

When you decide it’s time, you have your work cut out for you. Teaching kids that cell phones, while fun and exciting, are tools rather than toys can take some time. Here are a few ways to get the message across:

1. Limit screen time

Whether you choose to use in-device features, or let your child patrol themselves under your supervision, it’s important to limit and monitor your kids’ screetime. The goal in limiting screen time is to help your kids understand the opportunity cost of those sweet and precious screen minutes. 

When boredom sets in, do they really want to waste those finite minutes, or would they rather use them later? Pointing out that their free time is limited can motivate them to spend it on more stimulating activities. As an added bonus, limiting screen time tends to combat health issues like obesity, irregular sleep schedules, and violent impulses in your kids. 

2. Set some ground rules

Guidelines are great for things like your kid’s allowance. You can suggest budgeting techniques, but if they’re not followed, the consequences impose themselves: Buying that video game or pack of trading cards is awfully tough when their bank account is empty. 

When it comes to their kids phone, however, guidelines aren’t enough. Kids may not see the true consequences of getting too much screen time for years. Therefore, parents need to impose rules instead.

Guidelines are “soft” boundaries that kids can break if they choose to. Rules are set instructions that, if not followed, result in consequences. 

Until your kid is mature enough to police their own screen habits, setting ground rules is your best bet. Here are some rules to start with:

Rule 1: Phones should not be used at the dinner table. 

With the hustle of school, work, and extracurricular activities, families already have limited time together. Throw cell phones in the mix, and that window shrinks even further.

For many families, the only time they truly get together is breaking bread at the end of a long day. Stress the importance of face-to-face family time, and ask your children to leave their kids phones far from the dinner table

Rule 2: Phones shouldn’t be used at school.

Not only can phones be a distraction from learning when used in the classroom, but they can also prevent students from connecting with one another. In fact, 43% of teens admit that they often or sometimes use their kids phones as a way to avoid face-to-face interactions with others. Phones can be brought to school, but they should be left in a locker or backpack. 

Rule 3: Phones don’t belong in or near beds.

Aside from the fact that screen time before bed reduces sleep quality, it’s also a tempting atmosphere for bingeing. Having their phone within arm’s reach while you’re in another room might make it too convenient to send one more text message, play one more game, or watch one more video. Beds are meant for sleeping, not scrolling. 

Rule 4: Phones shouldn’t be used to access dangerous content.

Many phones make it all too easy for kids to access disturbing and illegal content online. Either ensure a kids phone is unable to access the internet, or implement parental controls to block certain sites.

If you go the latter route, beware that kids are masters of getting around the rules. Porn culture is pervasive online. Illicit substances are bought and sold on the dark web. Talk to your kids before it’s too late.

3. Print and frame photos they take

For kids, half of the fun of a phone is the ability to take photos. Whether it’s a goofy picture at a sleepover, or selfie on family vacation, kids can be shutterbugs. 

There’s nothing wrong with taking a photo here and there, but kids shouldn’t be spending all their time behind the lens. Printing and framing your kids’ favorite photos encourages them to make each shot meaningful — just like we had to do when cameras actually used film. 

4. Encourage them to contact long-distance relatives

Of course your kids want to call their friends, but you should also encourage them to reach out to family members. Phones aren’t just for texting the best friend who lives two blocks away; they’re for keeping in touch with people who you may not get to talk to as often. 

If you have family that lives in another city or state, ask your kids to strike up a conversation. Maybe they can set up a standing weekly call to build a lasting bond. 

5. Lead by example 

If we want our children to see their phones as tools, then it’s critical that we treat them that way ourselves. Use tools like timers to avoid overusing your phone.

Setting the example is about how you use your phone as much as how much you use it. When you’re feeling bored and itching to scroll through your social media, fight it by taking a short walk. Instead of reading a headline, why not pull out a book to read?

6. Choose the right phone

When choosing a phone for your child, be sure to choose a device that fits your family’s needs. 

When it comes to a phone for kids, your primary concerns are probably safety and cost. The Gabb Z2 kids phone is $99 and comes with no social media, app store, or social media access.

Your kids, on the other hand, are probably more concerned about the style of phone and the features it has. Meet them in the middle by choosing a phone that has the look and feel of a smartphone without the risks. 

7. Plan other forms of entertainment

Sometimes, kids need a little push in order to make better choices with their phone. If they’re struggling with healthy habits, put some real-world events on the calendar.

Good options include:

  • Starting a garden.
  • Going to an amusement park.
  • Working together on a craft project.
  • Signing your kids up for sports.
  • Checking out books from the library. 

On long road trips, when cell phone entertainment seems unavoidable, motivate kids to journal, draw, or read. Better yet, take advantage of this time for family bonding by playing the license plate game or finding a podcast the whole family can enjoy. 

Don’t think of encouraging healthy habits as ruining your kids’ fun. By implementing just a few of these tips, you might keep your child from becoming one of the 50% of teens that feel addicted to their device. Adjust your household’s phone policies as you see fit for a happier, safer, more present family.