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How To Set Smartphone Boundaries For Your Kid

At some point, setting smartphone boundaries became part of parenting.

My sister sent me a message today about her 14-year-old daughter and Instagram.

Basically, she found a “secret” Instagram account that her daughter started without permission. The account was full of posts that were the rantings of a 14-year-old girl but still very disturbing for a mother to read.

We talked on the phone for about two hours and I tried my best to be supportive and help her remember that she is A wonderful mother.  

And that nothing she did as a parent caused these thoughts and feelings that her daughter was having. She was really struggling with what she knew she had to do (be the a-hole parent and take the stupid phone away) and what she wanted to do (explain the dangers and hope that her daughter would follow the rules from now on). 

In the end, she resolved that her daughter would lose her phone for a month and would lose all social media for good.

After moving through my day for a few hours and thinking through our conversation from that morning I realized

I have no idea the impact that smartphones and social media have on kids

Um, duh. I have an 11-year old who will be turning 12 in a few months and she has had a smartphone for a year.

Yet, I’m such an idiot that it’s never occurred to me to wonder what kind of impact that friggin’ thing is having on her mental health, emotional intelligence, and overall childhood experience.  

Yes,  I know that screen time is not good for kids and their development. And I have screen time boundaries for my kids as far as what they are allowed to watch and how long they are allowed to be on their device.

But, when it comes to a phone, I assume my daughter is using hers the same way that I use mine. She doesn’t have any social media accounts because the minimum age for most of them is 13 and I figure that is for a reason.

The thing is, she is going to be 13 in a year. So, before we go down the road of social media accounts on her phone, I thought it would be a good idea to do some research.

What we are up against as parents: Effects of Smartphones on Youth

Various surveys published in 2017 reported that kids spend an average of eight hours per day using various social media apps.

The national coalition to prevent child sex abuse reports that 77% of kids ages 8 to 18 have cell phones and 31% of those cell phones are smartphones.

A survey published by common sense media found that 78% of 13 to 17-year-olds checked their phones once an hour and 72% felt pressured to respond immediately to text and social media notifications

Some signs that your child might be addicted to their smartphone include

The child becomes anxious irritable angry or possibly violent when the phone is taken away

The child skips or refuses to participate in social events in Lou of spending time on their phone

The child’s personal hygiene and or sleep  is affected because they choose to be on the phone rather than sleeping or grooming

The child lies hides and brakes family rules in order to spend more time on her phone

To determine for sure if your child has a smart To help parents determine if their child is addicted phone addiction South Korean researchers developed a 10 item questionnaire. The questionnaire was published in the journal PLOS one in December 2013 and is a tested resource

As with anything, there are pros and cons to kids having smartphones and access to social media. However, as parents it is important that we are educated about the effects these things can have on our kids and how to implement the necessary boundaries. Each family has to decide for themselves if their children should have smartphones and at what age. But, every family must learn as much as they can about the effects of smartphone and social media usage and how to protect their kids.


What Are The Risks Of Using Social Media?

RSPH and the Young Health Movement have published a report that examines the negative (and positive) effects of social media on youth.

The name of the project is #statusofmind and it actually ranks social media platforms by how harmful they are to the mental health and emotional intelligence of youth today.

According to this report, Instagram is the worst social media platform for young people to spend time on.

Social media platforms, in general, can lead to mental health concerns like anxiety and depression. Some other negative effects of too much time on social media include;

Poor Sleep

Tweens and teens are especially susceptible to the negative effects of poor sleep. These age groups, in particular, require restful sleep in order to function because so much is going on in their bodies hormonally.

Until a person is in their 20s or 30s, the brain is not fully developed and getting enough restful sleep is crucial to proper brain function.

Poor sleep is not only linked to poor mental health but, it can also lead to physical diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure.

There are two ways that social media use can interfere with healthful sleep;

  • Looking at a phone before bed means allowing the blue light from the screen to interrupt the natural process of the brain triggering the body that it is time to sleep
  • Being fearful of missing out on a social media notification can cause anxiety and night waking to check messages or notifications


I don’t care who you are – you know about bullying. Of course, when we were kids, no one really talked about it. And, you definitely didn’t go home and tell your parents.

Nowadays, not only do our kids have to worry about being bullied at school but, they have to worry about being bullied online.

Cyberbullying is basically bullying that is done online. For instance, posting threatening or demeaning messages on someone’s Facebook page is considered cyberbullying.

Unfortunately, each one of us has probably heard about or read a story about a child who has committed suicide because they were being cyberbullied.

The more social media platforms that your child has an account on, the more access people have to them. And, the more places that cyberbullies can leave their nasty messages.

FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

I think we all experience this a little bit. Like when you can’t leave the room to go pee during Ellen, because you’re afraid of missing something.

That anxious feeling keeps you glued to whatever it is you’re doing and you can’t break free.

This is what many of our kids feel everytime they are away from their social media platforms. The anxiety that something amazing is going to happen without them.

This feeling turns the desire to check social media into a compulsion. 

What’s a parent to do?

Okay, so now you’re sitting there with your head filled with the most disturbing and awful scenarios imaginable. And, what’s your first thought when I say, “take the phone away”?

Mine is, “But, how will I get ahold of her when I need her”?


We are all old enough to remember that the whole purpose of a phone … is communication. To be able to reach out and speak with someone in the moment that you need to.

And, as a parent, that ability is pretty freakin’ great!

I can call my child on her cell phone and speak to her at any moment that I want to.

So, what is the happy medium? 

How to set smartphone boundaries for your kid

Use restrictions

If your child has an iphone you can configure the restrictions page to block some of the apps and content. If your child has an Android phone, you can download a parental control app to do the same thing.

Set boundaries

Make sure that your child knows that the phone is yours and agrees to your terms. Those terms include the right to check the phone periodically and without warning for inappropriate usage.

Create a contract

Write a contract for your child to sign that outlines the expectations regarding how the phone is used. The contract should include all restrictions that you have. For instance, no sending nudes, no texting or messaging after 9 pm, etc. Also, the contract should clearly state the punishment if any of the expectations should be broken

Check with your carrier

Ask your cell phone provider what kind of restrictions or monitoring they offer. For instance, some carriers can restrict the ability to send pictures. AT&T and Verizon provide services that will limit time of day use and can restrict who the child can call or text

Reward good behavior

Obviously, if your child is being responsible about how they are using their phone, you should reward that. If all aspects of the contract are being met let them have Instagram.

But, be cautious. Be mindful. You’re allowing this relationship between your child and their social media platform to form. You have to go into it with the knowledge that serious monitoring will be necessary. Your goal is to ensure that nothing gets out of hand and that your child’s mental health is intact.

Ultimately, hubs and I decided to take our daughter’s phone away until she is 13. When she turns 13, she can have a brand new smartphone. We will implement the time limit service and restrictions offered by our cell phone carrier. And, we will enter into a smartphone contract together. However, she won’t be allowed to have any social media accounts. If she wants to connect with friends – she can text and ask them to come over. We are *** parents and we’re okay with that.

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