Rules for Teenagers and the Phone
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Rules for Teenagers and the Phone

Parenting Expert Jan Faull, MEd, discusses talkative teens.

Q. "My 14-year-old son would be on the phone for hours every night just chatting with his friends, both male and female, if we didn't put limits on the time. He is a very good kid, gets A's and B's and doesn't give us any trouble. But this drives me crazy. No calls can come in if he is sitting with the phone glued to his ear. He goes to school 30 minutes away from our home, so he can't physically get together with kids after school. What kind of compromise can be made?"

A. This is a common problem parents of teenagers face, and it's time to make some rules regarding the telephone. Telephone use is a privilege, not a right, and your son is abusing this privilege. Here are some rules you might consider implementing:

Phone calls are restricted to 30 minutes each.

With this rule in place, parents can check messages and make business and social calls between the son's lengthy telephone conversations. Your son is expected to police himself, and getting off the phone for a minute and calling right back is not acceptable.

No phone calls between 7 and 9 p.m.

This time would be reserved for quiet study, reading, and homework. During this two-hour period, the TV will be turned off as well. Parents can use the phone, but the teenager can't. After all, parents are paying the phone bills. It's their right to use it at will, when needed.

When parents or other members of the household need to use the phone, he must end his call within five minutes.

This is straightforward, and getting off the phone promptly is simply considerate to the rest of the family. The parent can send a signal or politely knock on his door to request to use the phone. At that time, the teen has five minutes to wind up his call and say "good-bye." One note: If your teen is on the phone, don't pick it up to tell him you need to use it. For teens this feels like an invasion of privacy. Finding him in person is best.

Call-waiting needs to be answered and reported right away.

With teenagers, call-waiting is practically a necessity and it's worth the investment. However, it's important to establish clear rules around this feature so it doesn't go to waste. Your teen needs to answer all call-waiting calls, and he needs to pass along the message right away. This feature also gives you and your son some freedom -- if you're expecting an important phone call you can warn your son, and ask him to find you as soon as the call comes in. You don't need to be guarding the phone, and your teen can use it in the meantime.

If you decide to buy your teen a cell phone, require him to pay the monthly charges.

It's not unusual for teenagers to have cell phones, especially since there are so many inexpensive calling plans and prepaid phones available. And there are a lot of benefits -- first, you'll get your phone back. Second, it's a good lesson in cause and effect for your son: He'll pay for the amount of time he talks. A prepaid plan might be best -- a great way to help your son learn how to manage his money and ensure you're not stuck with an outrageous phone bill. Require your son to put a certain percentage of his income away in savings first, and then he can use whatever is left over to purchase cell phone minutes, or movie tickets, or whatever he prefers.

Advice for Parents

Even if you lived near your son's friends, he would probably put lots of time in on the telephone. Most teens do. Telephones provide a safe social distance that teens seem to need. On the phone conversations lead to more intimate and personal subjects that teenagers seek but that come harder when face-to-face. It's the unusual and often lonely teen who doesn't spend an inordinate amount of time with the phone riveted to his ear.

When you set telephone rules in place, realize that your son may blow up by saying, "This isn't fair. You're just a control freak. I hate living here. Those rules make no sense." Teens fight such controls and your son will resent the change you're imposing. His outrage will pass as long as you're insistent and can bear up under his barrage of insults. Your consistent response only needs to be, "I understand you're angry, and I understand your point of view. Nevertheless, this is how it is." Remind him that these rules are not to punish him, but to ensure that the rest of the household has access to the telephone as well. The teenaged telephone tirade will pass as long as you don't meet his fury with yours.

Also, resist trying to convince him that these rules are reasonable or expect that he'll endorse them. He won't do it, so don't waste your energy. Proceed with confidence as you impose a couple of rules. In time they'll be a normal part of your household routine.