Teen's iPhone Comes With 18-Point Contract From His Mom
When 13-year-old Gregory opened his brand new iPhone, it came with a contract -- not just from the provider -- but from his mother. And it is a long one.
Janell Burley Hofmann wrote up the 18-point contract covering everything from privacy to porn to music to reminding him to look out the window. The mother of five's post on the contract has over 1,000 comments on the Huffington Post, and has been labelled "the first viral sensation of 2013." The contract's popularity shows our deep-seated fear of our teens' love of technology.
Some highlights of the contract:
1. It is my phone. I bought it. I pay for it. I am loaning it to you. Aren't I the greatest?
2. I will always know the password.
3. If it rings, answer it. It is a phone. Say hello, use your manners. Do not ever ignore a phone call if the screen reads "Mom" or "Dad." Not ever.
4. Hand the phone to one of your parents promptly at 7:30 p.m. every school night and every weekend night at 9:00 p.m. It will be shut off for the night and turned on again at 7:30 a.m. If you would not make a call to someone's landline, wherein their parents may answer first, then do not call or text. Listen to those instincts and respect other families like we would like to be respected.
And the big ending:
18. You will mess up. I will take away your phone. We will sit down and talk about it. We will start over again. You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.
Sounds great, doesn't it? I wish I could parent like that. So full of love, and humour but also strict and setting limits. This mom has it all figured out.
But then I read it over again and I wasn't so sure about the rules (though I still think she seems lovely and her son does too.) I believe that a teen has a right to privacy. Teen relationships are conducted online in texts and on social media. Just because we adults don't understand it, doesn't make it wrong. I wouldn't lift the extra handset of our landline to listen in on his conversations, and I also won't read his texts (except maybe a little peek over his shoulder once in a while). And taking away the phone so early in the evening? That seems Draconian as the phone is the main social tool and homework aid for many teens.
But maybe I'm wrong, most of the comments on the posts were overwhelmingly positive, giving virtual high fives to the mom. So I consulted with a couple of parenting experts to see if my impulse that this contract was restricting and a little paranoid was wrong or right.
Beverley Cathcart-Ross from the Parenting Network said (in an email) that she thought the contract showed that the mother and son had a close, caring relationship. She would have liked to see a "future component" added in:
How is he going to evolve into his independence? We would suggest it would be more encouraging to add: that she believes with experience and time that he can develop the good judgment to manage the phone on his own. This would be a vote of confidence and faith in him. This will be a journey for the two of them with the goal for him to develop respectful uses for the technology, and for his mom to gain the confidence in his judgment around her concerns and these fundamental values: dealing with others respectfully by not lying, stealing, bullying, ridiculing and exploiting.
Dr. Alex Russell, author of one of my favourite parenting books of last year, was very concerned about the form of the contract. He said that it looks like the mother and son have a good relationship, but the contract is set up for failure.
He said, in an interview: "Imagine being the son? You want the phone so you will agree to it. And you've already been told you are going to fail right down there at the bottom. What are the chances of success?
He said that looking at a 13-year-old from a developmental point of view, you know that some of those rules are not going to be followed. "He is probably going to start breaking the rules immediately. And then he will have to choose whether or not to lie to his parents," he added.
Dr. Russell says that each parent has to negotiate the rules they feel comfortable with when it comes to their children and technology. But they should always be based on the expectations of success and mutual respect. That way, kids will choose to come to their parents when they need help, as opposed to hiding their failures for fear of retribution, or just because are scared of letting them down.
He thought the contract would be better laid out as a letter from mother to child, as many of the issues in it aren't really about an iPhone, but are a list of parental anxieties about the teen world. I understand how this mother feels -- I wish I was as articulate in verbalizing my fears to my own almost 13-year-old son.
But I am willing to give him the freedom to make mistakes -- some of which he will tell me about and some of which he will have to clean up himself.
I am thankful to Janell Burley Hofmann for writing this contract because it may be the end of the conversation for her and her son, it serves as a great conversation starter for my own son and I.
Do you think the contract goes too far? Or should more parents be like Janell Burley Hofmann?
Want more chaos? Last year, I wrote about the rise of Toddler and Tiara style pageants in Canada.