Mum’s iPhone for teenager – too many strings attached?

Mom gives son iPhone and 18-point contract. Image from Good Morning America.

Mom gives son iPhone and 18-point contract. Image from Good Morning America.

By now, many of you will have read the article doing the rounds about the American mom who gave her 13-year-old an iPhone for Christmas, with an 18-point contract.

Janelle Burley Griffin posted her letter to her son on her personal blog on Christmas Day, but it has gone viral since it was republished at the Huffington Post.

She begins by saying:

Dear Gregory

Merry Christmas! You are now the proud owner of an iPhone. Hot Damn! You are a good and responsible 13-year-old boy and you deserve this gift. But with the acceptance of this present comes rules and regulations. Please read through the following contract. I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well rounded, healthy young man that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it. Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iPhone ownership.

I love you madly and look forward to sharing several million text messages with you in the days to come.

From there, Janelle outlines 18 “strings” that are attached to his ownership of the phone. Some are rules, but mostly there is a lot of advice to her teenager about how he should live his life.

Australian psychologist and parenting expert Collett Smart, who I respect a lot, is a big supporter. On her Facebook page, she wrote:

Brilliant, creative parenting! Maintaining healthy boundaries, while allowing your child to stay in step with his generation.

But a quick look at mum Jannelle’s twitter feed (@JanellBH) and you can see she’s also receiving some backlash about being too controlling.

When I read her post, I certainly thought she made some nice points, especially:

  • Leave the phone at home sometimes, just because … Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out.
  • Do not text, email, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.
  • Keep your eyes up. See the world happening around you. Stare out a window. Listen to the birds. Take a walk. Talk to a stranger. Wonder without googling.

But I also felt uncomfortable about some of her requirements, namely:

  • It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you.*
  • I will always know the password.
  • Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads “Mom” or “Dad.” Not ever.

*This is despite her son being expected to replace the phone if he loses it.

The password issue is a particular sticking point for me. Collett Smart recommends parents always know their child’s password. Personally, I feel this is appropriate when they are children and tweens, but I can’t see it working for teenagers. In my situation, I know that insisting on having my teen’s password to her Facebook and Tumblr sites would be detrimental to our relationship. That’s not to say I haven’t looked behind the scenes when I’ve had the opportunity and I’ve felt the situation warranted it, but that becomes less and less as she gets older (she is almost 15).

I have never had access to her mobile phone, and would feel uncomfortable reading her text messages. It is her one truly private means of communication with her friends. I am less concerned about monitoring text messages because they are not published online.

Obviously, Janelle is expecting that this contract will work well for her family and her son has said he is happy with it and his mum does give him freedom. What isn’t made clear is whether she will be flexible on the rules as her son gets older and closer to adulthood, or if this contract holds until he is 18. In my very short time of having a teenager, I have discovered that I am required to constantly reassess my rules and expectations.

Would something like this work in your family? Do you “own” your teenager’s phone? Do you or would you like to have access to passwords?

We would love to hear a variety of opinions and thoughts on managing your teenager’s smart phone use and ownership.




  1. Oh yes parenting a teenager … a constantly evolving, readjusting, reassessing roller coaster ride.
    I do demand to know passwords and have said I will do random checks, especially if I suspect something might be going on.
    We are entering a new stage though, with the eldest acquiring a boyfriend and now spending a lot of time on FB chatting, I’m the mum from hell who takes away phones and computers at 9.30pm (sometimes closer to 10 if I’ve become engrossed in TV before doing the confiscation).
    I don’t think any of our rules will hold water when they are 18 – which is going to be tough because in my case both daughters will both be 18 from the start of year 12.
    I think Janelle’s rules are fine for now but everything evolves over time.
    It’s a balancing act between allowing them freedom and privacy and still being aware. The stories of parents finding out after tragedies of their children’s other lives online is frightening, but I’m not sure how we fix that.
    It’s bloody difficult being the first generation of parents to have to deal with this stuff!
    Janine Fitzpatrick recently posted..It’s In The Stars.My Profile

  2. I am so not the right person to ask. We are staying as far away from technology for as long as we can. My 9 year old has no electronic devices, not even a DS. She is currently playing on the computer with her younger sister for the first time this school hols – she chose to play “cool maths games”. I like it that way. There’s plenty of time for the other stuff later. And hopefully I will know how to tackle it. But I’m with you, the password does seem to invade privacy.
    Alana recently posted..Grannies gone wildMy Profile

  3. I hadn’t given this issue much thought until this story hit the news, we’re years away from having to make these decisions. But I think I’m with you, knowing the password seems to somehow undermine trust. I hope that when the time comes for my girls to have their own phones I can set a good example for them… which means I have to get better at leaving it behind just because! xx
    Catherine Rodie Blagg recently posted..Mama Bear and the Digger LadyMy Profile

  4. Mr15 and Ms14 don’t have smart phones, just ordinary phones, Mr11 doesn’t yet have a phone but I’ve wished he had one often enough recently that it won’t be long before we go shopping. I consider my kids’ phones to belong to them and have never wanted to monitor their text messages. We currently have all the family phones on one account with very basic cheap plans for the kids, no data, free calls and texts between family members. They can have a smart phone with a data plan when they can afford to pay for it themselves, meanwhile they can sms via phone when out and about and do everything else via laptop/desktop/ipod touch when at home (they have no lack of devices for internet access) or logged into the school wi-fi.

    I’ve just recently stopped monitoring Ms14’s email accounts. I’d set the kids’ accounts up years ago and had their emails coming to my inbox, mostly because they weren’t likely to check regularly back then. I told them at the time that they could ask me to stop getting their emails any time they liked, Mr15 still hasn’t asked – he’s not much into communicating with anyone online…or at all.

    I had wondered how I would feel about being told to butt out of the email accounts, turns out I was mostly relieved to be no longer getting all the Smiggle, Pandora and Taylor Swift spam!
    mimbles recently posted..Did I tell you I’ve got a writing gig?My Profile

  5. Okay, I must’ve been under a rock or hanging out in Canberra (same thing, really) because I didn’t hear about this story.
    I agree. While most of her points are great and I love how the letter she wrote to her son, I wouldn’t be comfortable knowing the password either.
    Unless, you just want to give them the impression that you have full access so they won’t do or write anything stupid on their iPhone? I don’t know. I’m nowhere near a teenage parent yet so I’m just speculating here.
    Grace recently posted..Facebook Lovin’ Sunday – 06/01My Profile

  6. Even though I’m years away, I’ve toyed with the idea of having passwords written in a book that wont be looked at unless needed. I don’t know how that will work as passwords can be changed easily.
    Emma recently posted..Happy New Year!My Profile

  7. Im so not there yet, but I’m on board with all you’ve said here. Teenagers still need boundaries laid out, and phones and technology open up a whole new realm of temptation. I think privacy and boundaries still need to be respected though. Still, differerent things are going to work for different families.
    Kim@FallingFaceFirst recently posted..New year, in clover.My Profile

  8. My first reaction to this story was that the mother is overbearing and is holding the apron strings way too close on this kid. I mean just look at him! He doesn’t look like the type to spend his first night on the phone googling porn. But that’s just me making judgements.

    I think parents giving written contracts to kids is wrong in the first place. My dad used to give me contracts. Or lists of rules I had to abide by or lists of things that were wrong with me with suggestions on how I should fix them. And that last was only a few years ago. It didn’t make me feel very good at all. So I don’t like that aspect of this ‘gift’.

    When Ned gets to an age where it is suitable for him to have his own iPhone I’d sit down and have a conversation about it with him. Sure I’d monitor use and probably take it away at the end of the day, but I wouldn’t expect to have his passwords. I hope that over the years our relationship will always be close and I will be able to sense if he is in trouble or being bullied or whatever difficulties might arise from being constantly connected.

    Having such an expensive piece of equipment would also require my kid to show responsibility for it and be able to pay for it or at least some of it. I would have restrictions on data downloads just because that can be easy for anyone to over do it. As for setting rules about how my kid monitors his calls and whether or not he answers the phone, that’s just going overboard. That’s the beauty of caller ID! You can decide whether or not you feel like answering the phone and speaking to that person at that time. If the person really wants to talk to you, they can leave a voicemail. If my kid was to then ignore an urgent VM, well I’d get pissed off with that.

    As Ned is still only four, who knows what I might think when I actually do have a teenager but I hope I raise a child who deserves my trust on these things.

    Vanessa @ recently posted..Part 5: The dad questionMy Profile

  9. “You are now the proud owner of an iPhone” quickly switches to “It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you.” How does that work? Still, I get where she’s coming from and even if it is overbearing it’s filled with lurve.

  10. As a parent to four teens I can understand her desire to have some pretty strict rules in place for a first phone. Give an inch… even a millimetre… and they will take a mile – that’s the way it ends up working around here anyway.

    I hate Facebook with a passion when it comes to teens. In my experience with it, it’s a time bomb waiting to go off. Smart phones make it even easier for them to access it 24/7 – unless you have a rule about smart phones like this Mum does.

    I was thinking about the “It’s my phone” statement. I wonder if she put that in there so if a situation ever arose, it would be easier for her to say “hand over your phone”, as a punishment. My 16yo daughters phone right now has been confiscated as a punishment – I bought it for her as a birthday present – and she won’t be getting it back until the new school year starts [ the phone was needed to be taken due to the reason she is being punished]. She handed it over with no tanties, only a begrudging “I hate you mum” look. Where-as if I went to take my 17yo son’s phone, it would be a whole other scenario. He would proclaim he bought the phone, and it wasn’t mine to take… get where I am coming from?

    Again with the passwords – I have just allowed my 14yo son to join Facebook. One of the rules is I have full access. Simply because of the history I have dealt with where the older kids are concerned. Lo-and-behold I have discovered people on his ‘friends’ list he doesn’t know in person, but has there because his school friends do – most of them have never met or spoken to these ‘friends’ they have added. I dug a little deeper and found messages to people he’s never met either… His first mobile phone he got for Christmas will have the same password rule, simply because I’ve been through it before… and an inch will be claimed as a mile.

    I have no doubt the mum will revisit the rules as her son gets older, it’s just something you do. I know all my rules with mobile phones and social media are reviewed as the teens get older. They learn to understand and respect the responsibility of using them. Look at it like he’s on his L plates, I bet once he shows he’s responsible and mature enough to use it with respect, he’ll graduate to his P’s.
    Miss Cinders recently posted..dear teenage girls of the world… let’s talk life, sex and boys.My Profile

  11. I must say I think that once a gift is given, it’s given, but I insist on knowing passwords and being friends on facebook. So far! Interesting post and I hadn’t heard of this article before so good to ponder these issues.
    Seana Smith recently posted..Activity Ideas For Kids When It’s BLOODY Hot in SydneyMy Profile

  12. I do not own my daughter’s iphone. She saved her pocket money and gift money to buy it second hand from a friend’s parent. We are proud that she took the time to budget, scrimp and save to get what she wanted (rather than having the need-it-now mentality). The fact that she owns it herself means she is vigilant with it. She looks after it. She understands its value and knows what it would take to have to replace it.

    The password thing has me really confused. Part of me wants access. We have been aware of some inappropriate texting and instant messaging activities that parents of her friends have discovered with their 13 year olds. Usually from someone at the “other end” of the conversation (not their own child). Sometimes sexual in nature. This has raised alarm bells for us because we don’t get to see direct Facebook messages, texts etc. I don’t want to take her privacy away, but I need to protect her. So her Dad had a chat with her about showing us all her communications from time to time (when we ask). Just so that she is aware there is a chance we will want to see her activity without us going in there on our own to scout. We just want that planted in the back of her mind so she makes wise choices as to who she communicates with and how she conducts herself.

    We have one rule we stick with. That is that all “multi-media devices” (including our own) must be checked into the kitchen bench every night at 7.30pm for school nights and 9.00pm on non-school nights. There is absolutely no computers, iPads, iPods or phones to be in bedrooms of an evening. There is a point where we come together as a family without outside interruptions.

    It’s a strange playing field this raising kids thing is now being played on. I feel very much out of my comfort zone.

    I love the “leave the phone at home” idea, and “look out the window” etc. I am going to use that!


    Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit

  13. I believe that our kids needs to not only grow up but, in a sense, grow away from us. I don’t think I have a right to know everything my kids are up to the older they get. If I’ve done a good enough job in establishing a healthy relationship with them early on, then I believe they will still come to me and just generally would want to spend time with me. But this is when they are determining their identity; their independent identity.

    But I do like the rule of if you can’t say it in person, don’t say it at all.

    Love & stuff
    Mrs M
    Maria Tedeschi recently posted..BEN O’DONOGHUE, HOTCAKES AND SONY VAIO TAP 20My Profile

  14. Thanks everyone so much for your comments. It’s great to learn all the different ways parents handle this tricky subject.

Leave a Reply to Alana Cancel reply


CommentLuv badge