How To Set Limits on a Kids’ New Cell Phone

Selfies are fun, but make sure kids know how to be cell phone safe and smart. Photo courtesy of Kampus Productions, Pexels
Selfies are fun, but make sure kids know how to be cell phone safe and smart. Photo courtesy of Kampus Productions, Pexels
9/14/21 - By Ally Noel

“New phone, who dis?” As they head back to school, your kids may have renewed their pleas for a cell phone. Of course they want one—cell phones and smartphones are omnipresent in our lives. While having a phone might be practical (and feel inescapable), many parents struggle to come up with rules that will not only keep their kids safe but will stop them from turning into zombies! 

While experts all have their own opinions, I know that the best advice comes from the been-there done-that parents in the trenches. That’s why I turned to our readers and got their (your!) best tried and true tips and tricks for making sure your whole family is on the same page when it comes to those new cell phones.


According to a recent Common Sense Media poll, “By age 11, a majority (53%) of kids have their own smartphone, and by 12 more than two-thirds (69%) do.” Research shows that the trend is aging down at a rapid pace. Since kids with cell phones range in age from elementary school to high school, it’s important to take into account your child’s age and maturity level as you consider setting your family’s rules.

And that’s one thing everyone agreed on across the board: rule and expectation setting is the key. So read through these great tips, see what resonates for your family, and then have a family meeting about the responsibility that comes with their new phone.

Cell Phones For Kids: Safety Tips and Basic Rules

1. Set expectations from the start

Whether it’s “always pick up the phone if it’s mom” or “text dad as soon as you get there,” make sure all expectations are explained and everyone understands them. 

One Mommy Poppins reader told their kids, “Don’t answer my calls and I’ll take it back.” Another Mommy Poppins follower said, “They had to be willing to let me look at their phone anytime I requested.” Whatever you expect kids to do with their phone privileges, be sure you think about and outline those rules clearly—along with the consequences for breaking the rules! 

How To Set Limits on a Kids’ New Cell Phone:: set limits

Smart phones can help with homework, but then get put away. Photo courtesy of Katerina Holmes, Pexels

2. Set limits

One of our readers encouraged all parents to set a screen time limit, noting, “There are many apps that monitor and control screen time access. Also, set it so [kids] need to ask permission to download an app.”

Other limits to usage that parents suggested were when phones were allowed to be in use (not at meals or not after 8pm are common limits), how many minutes/hours a day phones could be used, or what they were allowed to use phones for (no games, or only texting, etc.).

3. Stranger danger 

Sure, your kindergarten teacher may have covered all the bases of “stranger danger” but make sure your kids know that this is also true out there in cyberspace. One Mommy Poppins reader gave this sage advice to her daughter: “Don’t talk to strangers. It’s not really Justin Bieber messaging you.”

4. Don’t delete messages

Many parents shared that they have instructed kids not to delete texts. That way parents can always do a spot check, or review messages with their kids. One savvy parent said, “I told them that even when they delete the text, it will show up on my bill anyway, even though it didn't!” (Check out these other funny sanity-saving lies parents tell their kids.)

5. Use a location tracker 

Whether you use Find My Friend or third-party apps like Find My Kid or Bark, knowing where your kids are is many parents' number one reason for giving their child a phone. One of our Facebook followers told their son that one of the conditions of having a cell phone was never disabling GPS, saying, “If you do, it means you're hiding where you're supposed to be or not be.”

RELATED: 15 Amazing Mom Hacks That Make Everything Easier

How To Set Limits on a Kids’ New Cell Phone: Don't use them at means or bedtime
Cell phones are phones, not alarm clocks or gaming devices. Photo courtesy of August de Richelieu, Pexels

How To Keep Kids' Cell Phones Out of the Bedroom 

6. Use an alarm clock

Use an actual alarm clock instead of a smartphone! If kids set their phone as an alarm, that means the cell phone is right by their bed all night. Kids could be tempted to check their phones if they wake up in the night, or could be awoken by a rogue late text from a friend. Which leads to...

7. Do not disturb

Help kids fight that Pavlovian urge to answer texts and messages immediately by putting phones on “Do Not Disturb” at a certain time every night. (This is great for parents, too!)

8. Create a “tech free” bedtime routine

Set your kids up with a healthy bedtime routine that doesn’t include screens. Find a no-tech way for your kids to unwind before they go to bed. This could be something as simple as reading a book or taking a shower. Try turning phones off at least an hour before bedtime to allow those whirling brains time to slow down.

How To Keep Cell Phones Out of Mealtime 

9. Model good behavior

Kids notice everything—including how much time you spend on your phone during dinner. (This should go without saying, but I know I am guilty of catching up with e-mail during a lag in conversation.) After all, mealtime is an important part of the day to catch up and check in with each other, not your phones.

10. Place devices away from the table 

Avoid the temptation by collecting all phones (grown-ups included) and storing them away from the table until mealtime is over. 

This can also work at bedtime. Several families reported having a “docking station” where all phones must live during meals and after bedtime.

Consider Cell Phone Alternatives

11. Get a flip phone

Many parents suggested getting kids an “uncool” phone. A flip phone is harder to use to text, play games, or browse the internet. As one reader said, “Give them an old phone that they are too embarrassed to take out in front of their friends … and is too outdated to download or upgrade their favorite games, so they use it only to make calls.” 

12. Get an alternate device

One mom told us, “So, we got our 8-year-old the Apple Watch that has cellular so we can call her if we are running late for pick up or if she goes over to her cousins we can get ahold of her. We have 100% control over it, she can't do any type of social media. She can call & text and that's it!! Best thing we could've gotten her.”

And our LA editor confided that her high school-age daughter was anxious about the responsibility of carrying around a phone that might get lost or stolen. She opted instead for an iPad with a keyboard attachment, which is not only perfect for homework, but she can use it to text friends. The iPad stays safely at home and only comes out at certain times. (It’s harder to hide being on a big tablet than it is a cell phone!)

13. No phone is always an option...

Not getting a phone might be the right thing for your child or family. With the omnipresence of phones, it’s pretty much guaranteed that your kids are near a friend or trusted adult whose phone they can borrow if they need to contact you. 

Cell phones are a lot of fun, but they’re also a big responsibility. Some kids might think they need a cell phone, but will actually function better without one.