Should iPhones for Teens Come with Contracts From Mom?

January 10, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Parents and Families

If your students returned to your classroom showing off the brand new tablets and iPhones they got for Christmas, they may need some help learning how to use them responsibly. And if you're thinking of holding a classroom discussion on responsible technology use – you may want to steal a few pointers from the contract Janell Hoffman created for her thirteen-year-old son, Gregg, after she bought him a new iPhone for Christmas.

"What I wanted to do and show him [is] how you could be a responsible user of technology without abusing it, without becoming addicted," she told Good Morning America.

“With the acceptance of this gift comes rules and regulations,” Hoffman prefaced in her contract, comprised of 18 do’s and don’ts written with a tone of both seriousness and affection.

“I hope that you understand it is my job to raise you into a well-rounded, healthy young man,” Hoffman wrote, “that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.”

Hoffman’s rules run the gamut, starting off with the basics: an open-password policy, restricted use on school nights, and the dangers of oversharing. However, the contract also includes a few tips that adults can learn from as well -- emphasizing the importance of balancing technology use with our relationships and interactions with the world around us.

The last few requisites are some of our favorites:

·       Don't take a zillion pictures and videos. There is no need to document everything. Live your experiences. They will be stored in your memory for eternity.

·       Leave your phone home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision. It is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO (fear of missing out).

·       Download music that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to the same exact stuff. Your generation has access to music like never before in history. Take advantage of that gift. Expand your horizons.

·       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.

The most empowering thing about Hoffman’s advice – and a tactic that, as educators, we must consider employing– is that she talks to her son with respect for his knowledge of the device and its capabilities. Teens often have as much to teach us about burgeoning technologies as we have to teach them, and we must take advantage of the opportunities they give us to learn.

That being said, homes and classrooms need some set of guidelines that encourage open communication. Our Family Media Agreements can be one place to start. They are often especially helpful for getting everyone on the same page. Consider sending home a copy with students for them to discuss with their families. Washington Post writer Molly Knight Raskin also created a helpful tip sheet for monitoring screen time that might be worth emailing out to parents or posting on your school’s listserv.

In Hoffman’s agreement, she assured her son that he will make mistakes, lose his phone, and that there were difficult conversations in their future. However, she followed this by saying, “You and I, we are always learning. I am on your team. We are in this together.” With open communication and guidance from trusted adults, teens can feel supported in their technology use and be more likely to make smart choices as they face the changing digital world around them.