Greg Hoffman is a very lucky 13-year-old. But not because he got the brand -spanking-new iPhone from his parents this Christmas that he really, really wanted. Young Greg is lucky because his mom, Janell Hoffman, a Cape Cod-area blogger and mom to five cared enough to provide him with a set of rules in the form of a contract that he was asked to sign before she activated his new phone.
Given the "hot button" parent-child issues relating to cell phone use and abuse that I've encountered of late in my education consulting and case management practice, I've taken the liberty of expanding upon Ms Hoffman's original rules. My hope is that by so doing, more parents may be empowered by the spirit, not just the process of her actions.
Our Rules for the new Cell Phone:
(designed for use with younger teens whether "younger" by age, by stage, or both!)
1. It is actually our phone, not yours. We bought it. We pay for its usage plan. Consider it on loan to you. If you incur any unexpected charges on it, we will help you out the first time, assuming it was a genuine error. After that, you will reimburse us for any extra costs you incur.
2. Until you can pay for your own phone costs, we must know your password. We also set the phone rules and will confiscate your phone if you break them.
3. Just like your curfew and your allowance have been increased with age, the phone rules can be upgraded or expanded as you get older and your needs change. Just not right now. But it will not matter now or later, whether your friends have a better deal or an easier time with their phone use, so please don't tell us how it works for them. While we wish them well, we are not their parents.
4. If your phone rings, you answer it. Say hello and goodbye; use your manners. If you are not in a position to answer, it should be off and accepting messages. Set up your voice mail today, learn how it works, check and respond to messages (whether to us or anyone else) regularly and promptly.
5. One of the main reasons you gave for you "needing" this phone was so we could reach each other easily. That means you do not avoid our calls. Not ever. If the screen flashes with our names, we expect you to answer.
6. In turn, we promise to give you the same respect and will answer whenever we see you trying to contact us, though we may not always be available for lengthy discussions at that particular moment.
7. On a similar note, never run your battery down so low that the phone couldn't be used if there was a genuine emergency. Things that run the battery down most usually involve downloading data, playing games etc. Limit these activities as the phone is an important safety device that you never know when you will need.
8. If you do text to us, to adult relatives, teachers, coaches, future employers etc., use proper spelling, punctuation and capitalization if you want to be taken seriously. Don't use excessive abbreviations just to sound cool - these folks aren't impressed by that, just annoyed.
9. You will hand the phone over to us promptly at every school night and every weekend night unless you are still out. It will then be shut off and returned to you the following morning. There is no need to make or receive calls or send texts in the middle of the night. If you are unsure whether it's too late or too early to call someone on a land line, you should not be calling their cell or texting either.
10. The phone does not need to go to school with you at this stage of your education. Have conversations face to face with friends at school instead of texting. Use your agenda to record your homework, not your phone. Tell time from your wristwatch. If you need the internet, use a computer at school, not your phone connection. These are all important life skills to learn now.
11. If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, vanishes into thin air or anything else, you are responsible to us for replacement costs or repairs. Same goes for accessories including chargers. Only after the debt is cleared will we discuss terms for a replacement. (But first, take a moment to learn how uncooked rice in a plastic baggie sometimes brings drowned phones back to life. Now THAT is something you can Google!)
12. Do not use this technology to lie, fool, humiliate, bully or deceive another human being. Ever. Remove yourself from any exchanges that turn hurtful to others. And though we hope you can muster the courage to stand up for the underdog, if you struggle with this at times, at least learn to stay out of the crossfire.
13. In general, do not text, email, attach, forward or say anything through this device you would not say, share with or show to grandparent without embarrassment.
14. That leads nicely into our next rule: no cruising porn on the phone. The same rules apply for information searching on the phone as on home computers: use the web to find information you would openly share. If you have questions about more personal or controversial issues, ask someone whose opinion and experience you trust - hopefully your parents, and not Jeeves, Yahoo or Google.
15. In public, the phone gets turned off, put on silent, or tucked away. That rule goes double for restaurants, movies and live theatre, and especially while conversing face to face with others. You are not an otherwise rude person; do not allow having a phone to change your true personality.
16. Do not send, save or forward naked or partly naked pictures of yourself or of anyone else. (See "grandparent" rule above.) Don't laugh! Smarter and more mature people who should know better have fallen into this trap. It is always a bad idea, and can ruin someone's life regardless of age or status. Cyberspace is vast, unregulated and more powerful than any of us, and it is downright impossible to make anything disappear. Especially a bad reputation, regardless of whether it is deserved.
17. Don't take a zillion pictures and videos with the new phone (see "don't run down the battery" rule above), and if you overdo it sometimes, don't immediately upload the lot without editing onto Facebook. No-one really wants to see every moment of your life documented. If you live your life experiences in person rather than capturing every moment digitally, they can remain stored in your memory for eternity.
18. Leave your phone at home sometimes on purpose, and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive nor is it an extension of you. You can manage quite well without it. Learn that sooner, not later. Be bigger and more powerful than the destructive FOMO (fear of missing out). Take time to consider debate or just wonder about the marvels and mysteries of the world around you, without googling the answer first.
19. Do download music that is new, classic or just plain different from the exact songs your peers are listening to right now. You have access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons. Tip: much of the music for today's most popular video games is actually written as full orchestral scores, often classically based. If you don't think classical is your thing, start listening to video game soundtracks. You might be surprised!
20. Do play games on your phone sometimes - not just video games, but those with words, puzzles or brain teasers. Challenge friends and relatives to join you. These types of games are surprisingly addictive in a good way, and often much more fun than what your friends all play right now.
21. Don't text or surf as you walk. Ever. It's a good way to trip over curbs, walk into poles, or get your phone snatched. Keep your eyes up and shoulders high instead. Observe the world that is happening around you and keep safe. And when you start to drive, same rule - even if it's not illegal where we live at the time.
22. If you need to leave your phone turned on for long periods, don't carry it too close to your body. Don't jam your cell into a pants pocket (front or back). For girls, never tuck your cell phone into your bra. Get a backpack, messenger bag or purse - and stash the phone there. The health risks from long-term exposure to cell phone emissions especially for young people are not yet fully understood - don't take a chance with your future health.
23. Expect that you will mess these rules up sometimes. When that happens, we will take away your phone for a while, but likely not forever. We know you might get angry or upset, but when you calm down, we will sit down and talk about it. And eventually we will start the whole thing over again. As family members, we must keep communication open and learn from each other. Remember that we are actually on the same team, even though it may not always seem that way.
24. Know that you have awesome parents who have not only generously loaned this phone to you, but care enough to also give you a long list of rules to go with it and who trust you to keep your word in a signed contract. Enjoy the new phone!