One Rockville mother, who didn’t want to be named, says her son wasn’t into social media when he got his phone as a fifth-grade graduation gift. He was mostly using it to play games and occasionally text his classmates. She was happy to give it to him, figuring he’d soon start to hang out with his friends without adult supervision. She wanted to make sure he could reach her if he needed to and that she could call or text him. It gave her peace of mind to be able to check on his whereabouts if she hadn’t heard from him for hours.

But his phone ultimately became a major source of anxiety for her, she says. The family’s sharing plan enabled her to receive all his texts on her phone. As he grew older—he’s now an eighth-grader—and his social life got busier, her phone practically blew up as his friends began to arrange their outings by texting each other. “What I noticed is that he wouldn’t respond to his texts,” she says. She began nagging him about it. “I was like, ‘Respond already. Are you going or not?’ ” she says. “He didn’t seem to care, and his friends didn’t seem to care. Things would work out. But I was getting emotionally involved. I needed to step away, and he needed some independence. We both needed space.” Last March she disconnected from his text messages. She’s feeling much more relaxed. “I never realized how exhausting it was,” she says.

Sam Erdheim of Derwood says he came to realize early on that he couldn’t monitor all aspects of his daughter’s cellphone use. So before he and his wife handed her an iPhone at age 12, they drafted a contract detailing some house rules. She couldn’t keep the phone in her room overnight, she couldn’t download any app without her mom’s permission, and they’d occasionally have an informal audit and check her phone. Now their daughter is an eighth-grader at Shady Grove Middle School in Gaithersburg. They’ll keep adjusting the contract as necessary in an age-appropriate way, he says. “You just can’t get so far into your kid’s business that you’re not giving them any privacy or leeway to make decisions,” Erdheim says. 

Erdheim and his wife recently allowed their daughter to download the popular lip-syncing app musical.ly. But then they noticed that she had some followers that they did not recognize, nor did she. Her mom sat down with her and made some adjustments to the app’s privacy settings instead of forcing her to scrap the app altogether, Erdheim says. “We don’t want to be in the business of saying no, because we understand that kids will rebel if you say no every single time,” he says.